Weight Loss and Muscle Building Content in Popular Magazines Oriented toward Women and Men

By Grieve, Frederick G.; Bonneau-Kaya, Crystal M. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Weight Loss and Muscle Building Content in Popular Magazines Oriented toward Women and Men


Grieve, Frederick G., Bonneau-Kaya, Crystal M., North American Journal of Psychology


Anderson and DiDomenico (1992) reported that the content of magazines for women and men held more weight loss articles and advertisements than weight gain articles and advertisements. In fact, the ratio of 10:1 weight loss material to weight gain material mirrored the incidence of women to men diagnosed with eating disorders. The media landscape has changed over the past 15 years, with more popular magazines oriented toward men being created. The present study re-evaluated the magazine content of present magazines marketed to women and men. The results indicate that weight loss content still is more prevalent than weight gain content overall, though, in men's magazines, the weight gain content is more prevalent than weight loss content. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are predominantly found in women (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000). Generally, the ratio of diagnosed women to diagnosed men is about 10:1 (Fichter & Krenn, 2003). One reason for this discrepancy is the importance that modern women have placed on achieving the social ideal of thinness, to the point that most women are dissatisfied with their appearance as they feel they need to lose weight (Cash, Ancis, & Strachan, 1997).

Women receive socialization about the thin ideal from a number of media sources, but perhaps the most important when considering the development of eating disorders is print media (Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002). Magazines present both words (articles on losing weight) and pictures (advertisements containing semi-clothed thin models) that reinforce the social ideal. In fact, the ratio of weight loss, or dieting, content in articles in women's magazines as compared to the content in men's magazines has been found to be 10:1--the same ratio as the ratio between women and men diagnosed with eating disorders (Andersen & DiDomenico, 1992).

Men's concern over body shape is a recent phenomenon (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000). The number of men reporting to be dissatisfied with their bodies is increasing (Olivardia, Pope, Borowiecki, & Cohane, 2004), and a number of men report wanting to have a more muscular body shape than they currently have (Grieve, Newton, Kelley, Miller, & Kerr, 2005). Similar to women, one factor that influences body dissatisfaction in men is the adoption of the social ideal of muscularity (Grieve, in press).

Historically, men did not experience much pressure to conform to a certain body shape. However, recently, the commercial value of the male body appears to have risen (Pope, Olivardia, Boroweicki, & Cohane, 2001), with more men appearing in advertisements in a partially undressed state. Further, the number of magazines dedicated to "men's fitness" (i.e., building muscle mass) have increased in the last 15 to 20 years. Such changes appear to reflect the endorsement of a male muscular ideal by the advertising industry and further reflect the social ideal of lean muscularity for men.

Andersen and DiDomenico (1992) surveyed the content of popular women's and men's magazines. They found that women's magazines offered ten times as many articles and advertisements related to weight loss than men's magazines. Further, men's magazines offered more articles on changing body shape (e.g., gaining muscle) than on losing weight. Thus, the relationships discovered represent a socialization factor that plays a role in the development of eating disorders.

In the 14 years since the Andersen and DiDomenico article (1992) was published, the media landscape has changed. There are a number of magazines (e.g., Maxim, FHM) published today targeting the male audience that were not in existence in the early 1990s. Add the fact that the pressures on men to achieve a certain body shape have been increasing, and it appears as though the time is right to re-evaluate the content of popular magazines. …

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