Male Body Images and Unrealistic Goals

“We’re kicking off our search for the 50 sexiest single guys in America – one from every state – to be featured in our Cosmo Men Issue, and we need your help!” As I read the aforementioned advertisement I, like most women, got excited for the Cosmo Men Issue, until I realized the impact something as small as the “Bachelor Quest 2005” might have on the men in America.

For years women have been trying to reach certain unrealistic body goals. Women have been portrayed as sex symbols in magazines and for years women have developed various types of eating disorders in the process of pursuing perfection. For years woman have been seen as the ones who suffer from body image issues. Webster’s Dictionary defines body image as, “a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others.” Not once in that definition does it state the word “woman” or the word “women.” This is important to realize because women have always been the ones thought to have body image problems when in reality, any one can suffer from this mental issue. Society places a great deal of emphasis on women to meet the ‘ideal’ image, yet most people do not realize that men also feel the pressure to attain certain standards.


The media, who once exposed society to pictures of beautiful women, are now overloading America with pictures of what real men should look like. In an article titled “Body Image Disorder in Adolescent Males…” written for Professional School Counseling, authors Eric Stout and Marsha Wiggins Frame state, “In recent decades, men have been bombarded with images in society that depict the ‘ideal’ male: strong, muscular, lean, with perfect features.” The article went on to further give statistics about the prevalence of men as sex symbols in magazines. For instance the aforementioned Cosmopolitan magazine had only six percent of its male models without clothes in the year 1958, but in the year 1998 the percentage of naked boys rose to an alarming thirty-two percent. Ben McLaughlin, a homosexual freshman at Purdue University majoring in fashion design, had this to add about the media’s effect on male body image: “Well, take Abercrombie for example, their advertising director is gay and he poses really cut, muscular boys close together and all of them are what we would consider “hot” so when guys see them as what all the girls consider “hot” then they start to compare themselves to those boys on the walls at Abercrombie. It happens to every guy but most won’t admit it.” Ben is implying in his quote that magazine advertisers purposely pose boys a certain way and purposely make them look like the ‘ideal image’ so other men will want to look that way as well. He is saying that while most guys will not admit they are influenced to look a certain way, they actually are.
It is not only magazines and advertisements that influence men, television shows also help to brainwash them about how they should look. Brock Zell, a sophomore at Indiana University who took a weight class in order to lose weight, said that he does not compare himself to people like the famous musician Usher like other men do, but rather a TV show about wrestling called the Contender. “I was watching the Contender last night…and there were some ripped guys on there, and I said I wish I had as big of arms as them, like biceps.” Brock is implying that even watching something as simple as a series on TV has made him wish and hope for a different body type.

The media is not the only factor in the way males perceive themselves; the influence of people around them and the way those people look also plays a role in how men think of themselves. In the “Body Image Disorder in Male Adolescents…” the authors stated, “…boys who themselves do not fit into the concept of the ideal male image feel a silent peer pressure that they begin to enforce on themselves.” Matt Demaree, a freshman at DePauw University who lost an extreme amount of weight had this to add about the influence of peers, “I know that I could/should look way better just from seeing people around me.” Matt went on to say that he feels he is more influenced by the people around him than the media. Matt is inferring that most people think the media is the only form of persuasion for men, when in all reality men are influenced through many factors.
With the media and peer pressure increasing the way men think, one can only speculate about the physical affects this has on them. Eating disorders are becoming more common with men. Along with eating disorders is a newly emerging disease called muscle dysmorphia. According to the article “Body Image Disorder in Male Adolescents…” muscle dysmorphia, “occurs when one has an excessive preoccupation with body size and muscularity, even if he already has a toned and muscular body.” Men are working out like crazy to increase their muscle sizes. According to another article, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Are Muscular Men the Best of all?” written for the magazine American Fitness, muscles are a sign of masculinity. The article also describes the type of males who are at risk of muscle dysmorphia as “adolescent boys who were teased as children about being too fat or short.”

Along with the obsessive desire to have muscles, there is a growing use of steroids to achieve these standards. According to the “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…” article, in a study involving 3,400 high school male seniors, six and six tenths percent admitted to the use of steroids. When asked if he thought men bought into the ideal of using pills, Indiana University freshman Cory Westerfield said, “A lot of them do.” Cory has had poor body images throughout his life due to his height, but has never taken pills himself.

Even though society pressures men to look a certain way, there are side effects to using steroids to reach those goals. According to the “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…” article, a few of the dangers of using these supplements are: breast enlargements, impotence, acne, mood swings, heart disease, prostate cancer, liver damage, AIDS, and even death. Another risk is called “roid rage.” This is a fierce temper that triggers anger and violence in men. “Roid rage” has been attributed to domestic violence against women.

Although society believes only women are at risk to having body image disorders, the opposite is actually true. Anyone is at risk, both women and men. The way men are viewing themselves in today’s society is increasingly becoming a problem. Ben McLaughlin had this to say about the future of boys body image, “It is a growing problem because there are a lot of new designers that are looking into male clothing and how to reinvent it. It’s been the same since the 1920’s just different colors and patterns of all the same stuff, so it’s getting more risqué and more high end looking, so now that means guys will be purchasing more stylish clothes and the competition to sell these clothes will be tougher. So the advertisements are only going to get racier and sexier and make average guys want to look like the sexy and risqué models they see wearing the clothes they like.” Whether it is due to the media, peer pressure, or just the distorted images in a male’s mind, there is a problem with male body image and the problem is only going to worsen if society continues to ignore that it is there.

Works Cited

“Bachelor Quest 2005.” Cosmopolitan Apr. 2005: 40. “Body image.” Webster’s Dictionary. 29 Mar. 2005. .

Clark, Nancy. “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall.. Are Muscular Men the Best of All?” American Fitness. Jan. 2004: 52. EBSCO Host. IUPUI Library, Indianapolis. 23 Mar. 2005. Keyword: male body image.

Stout, Eric, and Marsha Wiggins Frame. “Body Image Disorder in Adolescent Males: Strategies for School Counselors.” ProfessionalSchool Counseling. Dec. 2004: 176. EBSCO Host. IUPUI Library, Indianapolis. 23 Mar. 2005. Keyword: male body image.

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