Body Image Concerns in College-Aged Male Physical Education Students: A Descriptive Inquiry

By Olson, Michele S.; Esco, Michael R. et al. | Physical Educator, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Body Image Concerns in College-Aged Male Physical Education Students: A Descriptive Inquiry


Olson, Michele S., Esco, Michael R., Williford, Hank, Physical Educator


Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine body image concerns in college-aged male physical education majors. Sixty volunteers completed validated body image instruments including two-dimensional figure drawings. In general, the sample reported that they preferred a larger, more muscular physique reflective of male images that currently abound the mainstream media. More specifically, a sub-group of 21 subjects desired a larger, more muscular lower body. It should also be noted that 11 subjects, which represents just over 18% of the entire sample, exhibited a marked preference for increased size; a result that was associated with substantially elevated scores for body dissatisfaction. According the literature, these subjects are at an increased risk for clinical body image and/or eating disorders. Thus, the results of this study indicate that male physical education students expressed a consistent desire for a more muscular, larger physique. Finally, figure drawings that depict a range of muscularity across different body regions appear viable in assessing body image in young men.

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Research regarding body image and its expression in young adults has increased during the past two decades largely in response to the growth of eating disorders in post-modern society (e.g., Cash, Counts & Huffine, 1990; Edwards & Launder, 2000; Garner & Garfunkel, 1980; Garner & Garfunkel, 1981; Lindholm & Wilson, 1988; Rosen, Saltzberg & Srebnik, 1989). While considered to be an integral component of eating and dysmorphic disorders, body image is a distinct psychological mind-set related to the attitudes, judgments, and perceptions that an individual has assigned to his/her physical characteristics (Garner & Garfunkel, 1981).

Review of the Literature

The Role of Sport and Physical Activity

Female athletes and women engaged in fitness programs have been shown to exhibit higher than average rates of poor body image (Brown & Pugh, 1996; Otis, Drinkwater, Johnson, Loucks & Wilmore, 1997; Scharff-Olson, Richards, Williford; Sundgot-Borgen, 1993). Active females at greatest risk for body image concerns and eating disorders are generally those whose pursuits require their physiques to be "on display" such as aesthetic athletes (gymnasts and ballerinas) or group exercise leaders (Bettle, Bettle, Neumarker & Neumarker, 2001; Petire and Stoever, 1993; Scharff-Olson et al, 1996). Similarly, more recent studies have shown that men who participate in "appearance" activities such as body-building, or in sports that require them to control their body weight such as wrestling, have been found to exhibit non-normative pre-occupations with the size and shape of their physiques (Lantz, Rhea & Cornelius, 2002; Olivardia, Pope & Hudson, 2000; Thiel, Gottfried & Hesse 1993). In men, a more serious variation of this type of physique preoccupation has been described and is commonly referred to as muscle dysmorphia (Lantz et al., 2002; Olivardia et al., 2000).

In male athletics, the use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs is also widespread and, often, accepted (Cafri, Thompson, Ricciardelli, McCabe, Smolak & Yesalis, 2005). An effect of many of these drugs is increased body mass and muscularity. These changes in physical masculinity, coupled with the greater social status derived from being an athlete; appear to evolve into a narcissism that can lead to disordered eating and excessive training patterns (Cafri et al., 2005).

The Emerging Issue in Men

While limited, researchers have noted an increase in body image and eating-related issues even in men who are not engaged in those sports or exercise regimens known to be associated with apprehensions about their body image (e.g., Choi, Pope & Olivardia, 2002; Demarest & Allen, 2000; Gila, Castro, Cesena & Toro, 2005; Kjelsas, Augestad & Flanders, 2003). …

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