Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Factors Perceived to Influence Young Irish Men's Body Image Investment: A Qualitative Investigation

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Factors Perceived to Influence Young Irish Men's Body Image Investment: A Qualitative Investigation

Article excerpt

To better understand young Irish men's investment in their body image, a series of focus groups and personal interviews were conducted (N = 28). Recordings were transcribed verbatim and thematically analyzed. Numerous themes emerged: factors thought to intensify body image investment (media, sexual partners, body comparison, participation in sport, peers, negative commentary, family, striving for a healthy body, and striving for psychological well-being) and influences believed to weaken body image investment (appearance is unimportant and the time and effort expended to achieve the ideal are prohibitive). Illustrative quotes are used to represent each theme, and findings are discussed with respect to the participants' own body image attitudes.

Keywords: body image, Irish men, men's health, sociocultural theory, social comparison theory, Ireland


Body image is a multidimensional construct that reflects people's degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their body and appearance (body image evaluation: Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2006) and the "degree of cognitive and behavioral importance" that people assign to their body and appearance (body image investment: Cash & Pruzinsky, 2002, p. 510). Historically, the research literature on body image has focused predominantly on females (Cash, 2007). Indeed, Cash notes that human embodiment psychologists' "theories and investigations have typically neglected boys and men" while their empirical efforts focus "more on the personal and cultural meanings of endomorphy and ectomorphy than on matters of mesomorphy" (2007, p. ix). However, in recent years, interest in the topic of male body image has increased (Cafri & Thompson, 2004), with researchers reporting that men experience negative body image evaluation (Cash, Morrow, Hrabosky, & Perry, 2004; Frederick et al., 2007) and intensified body image investment (Cash & Grasso, 2005; Cash, Morrow, Hrabosky, & Perry, 2004).

The ideal male physique is muscular mesomorphic, characterised by broad shoulders, a muscular stomach, chest and arms, and a narrow waist (Filiault & Drummond, 2008; Kimmel & Mahalik, 2004; Ridgeway & Tylka, 2005). This ideal is coveted by gay and straight men (Pope, Philips, & Olivardia, 2000), and men of differing nationalities (Pope, Gruber, Mangweth, Bureau, deCol, Jouvent, et al., 2000) and ages (Fawkner & McMurray, 2002).

Research suggests that, for most men, there is a notable disjunction between their current and ideal physiques. For example, Olivardia, Pope, Borowiecki, and Cohane (2004) found that male American college students chose an ideal body with a mean of about 25 pounds more muscle and 8 pounds less fat than their current physique. Pope, Gruber, et al. (2000) reported that male undergraduate college students from Austria, France, and the United States selected an ideal body that was 27 to 29 pounds more muscular. Similarly, in a study of 48 men attending a college in the United States, Grieve, Newton, Kelley, Miller, and Kerr (2005) found that participants' perceived current body was less muscular than their ideal. Given such disparities, it is not surprising that many men experience body dissatisfaction (Cash, Morrow, et al., 2004).

In an attempt to better understand body image concerns in general, social scientists have relied primarily on two theoretical frameworks: sociocultural theory and social comparison theory (Morrison, Morrison, & Hopkins, 2003). The core elements of each theory will be reviewed briefly.

Sociocultural Theory

This framework is an established perspective on the development of body dissatisfaction, identifying social agents (media, peers, and family) as contributory influences. Its main hypothesis is that "individuals come to feel [badly] about their bodies ... because they are exposed to unrealistic beauty ideals, which they then feel [pressured] to achieve by their sociocultural environment, consisting of the mass media, peer groups, friends, and family" (Dittmar, 2005, p. …

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