Body Image Investment among Gay and Bisexual Men over the Age of 40: A Test of Social Comparison Theory and Threatened Masculinity Theory

Article excerpt


Body image investment, as measured by musde-oriented behaviours, motivational salience of appearance, and self-evaluative salience of appearance, was investigated using an online sample of middle-aged and older gay and bisexual men (n=162 and 73, respectively). The abilities of social comparison theory and threatened masculinity theory to account for variance in body image investment were tested. Analyses suggested that levels of body image investment, which did not differ as a function of sexual orientation, were better explained by the former theory. Potential meanings of these findings and their importance to clinical work with gay or bisexual men are explored. The limitations associated with the current research are discussed and directions for future research are articulated.

Keywords: body image, social comparison, gay men, aging, masculinity.


Body image is a multidimensional construct that reflects people's degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their body and appearance Cbody image evaluation'; Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2006) and the cognitive and behavioural importance that people assign to their body and appearance Cbody image investment7; Cash & Pruzinsky, 2002). Historically, the research literature on body image has focused predominantly on females and body fat, with empirical efforts typically neglecting studies of males and muscularity (Cash, 2007). However, interest in the topic of male body image has grown in recent years (Cafri & Thompson, 2004), with researchers reporting that men experience negative body image evaluation (e.g.. Cash, Morrow, Hrabosky, & Perry, 2004b; Frederick et al., 2007) and intensified body image investment (e.g.. Cash & Grasso, 2005; Cash et al., 2004b).

The hegemonic ideal male physique is lean and muscular, characterised by broad shoulders, a muscular stomach, chest and arms, and a narrow waist (Kimmel & Mahalik, 2004; Labre, 2005; Ridgeway & Tylka, 2005). Given these characteristics, it is not surprising that, for most men, there is large 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. Similarly, Pope et al. (2000a) 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.

However, scant research attention has been directed at men in middle (i.e., 40 to 64 years) and/or late adulthood (i.e., 65 years and over) (Peat, Peyerl, & Muehlenkamp, 2008), resulting in a limited understanding of body image issues pertinent to these groups (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2004; Tiggemann, 2004). Moreover, while some research suggests that men may experience body dissatisfaction as they age (Kaminski & Hayslip, 2006; Tiggemann, 2004) other studies indicate that the perceived functionality of the body rather than aesthetic considerations accounts for more variance in older men's self-esteem (Baker & Gringart, 2009) and depression (Reboussin et al., 2000).

Of particular interest to the current study is the omission of older gay men in research on body image (Drummond, 2006). The absence of empirical work focusing on sexual minorities is surprising given that studies with young adult men suggest sexual orientation may predispose gay males to body image problems. For example, and compared to heterosexual men, gay men may be at greater risk for body dissatisfaction (Morrison, Morrison, & Sager, 2004a; Tiggemann, Martins, & Kirkbride, 2007; Peplau et al., 2009) and disordered eating (Boisvert & Harrell, 2009; Hospers & Jansen, 2005; Yelland & Tiggemann, 2003). Indeed, Feldman and Meyer (2007) found that eating disorder prevalence was higher among bisexual or gay men than among their heterosexual counterparts. …


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