Men, Muscle, and Media

Men, Muscle, and Media

In the past decade men have become increasingly attuned to the shape and form of their bodies. Once only a female obsession, body image has quickly become a male fixation, too.

Traditionally the relationship between a man and his body was one of function. The man was the labourer, the strong, resilient worker who tended to laborious chores women found difficult. Today these notions of function have disappeared, and the media continually bombards men with images of “perfection”: rippling six-packs grace the cover of Men’s Health and larger images of Brad Pitt in Troy flash across the silver screen.

What many men may not realize is that models used in these magazines starve to achieve three percent body fat for the photo shoot. Certainly the usually scrawny Brad Pitt is not a
muscled, V-shaped god. Instead, Brad was forced to quit smoking, work with a personal trainer upwards of four hours a day for six months, and eat a muscle-gainer diet to achieve an additional 25 pounds of muscle.

Seeking Perfection

Media influences are creating cultural pressure on men to take control of their body image, to be leaner, and to look better. It is no longer good enough to simply have a functional body. The media says men need to have a “perfect body.”

Similar demands on women are expressed in chronic eating disorders. Among men, in comparison, the incidence of eating disorders has been relatively low. In the past decade, however, eating disorders have become increasingly prevalent among men. In a study of 10,000 Ontario residents, researchers at the University of Toronto found that one out of every six people who qualified for a full or partial diagnosis of anorexia was male.

Unhealthy New Normal

Many of these men are often suffering from body dysmorphia–an altered body image that manifests itself as anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. Men often suffer from a subset of body dysmorphia called muscle dsymorphia, in which men suffer from dissatisfaction with their lack of muscularity despite the fact that in many cases these men have more muscle mass than the average man. Their experience is so similar to the body image problems at the root of anorexia that some psychologists have coined the term “bigorexia.”

The recent surge of another trend has coined the term “manorexia,” which is used to describe the popularity with extreme male thinness. We are also led to believe that men are truly transforming from heterosexuals into the new “metrosexual,” now a household word. It derives from the popular reality TV program Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which five homosexual men take a slouchy, suburbanite man and turn him into a man who is preoccupied with exercise, clothes, cosmetics, and other aspects of their appearance.

A recent article in The Vancouver Sun, ?Manorexia’ the unhealthy new normal” cites the popularity of new male icons such as Scott Weiland of the rock band Velvet Revolver, Christian Bale of Batman Begins, and Canadian-born Gregory Smith of the TV series Everwood. All these men are “more bones than brawn,” the Sun reported. Society’s women, both young and old, have always known “thin is in,” however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that “the message to today’s young guys is clear: desperately thin is in.”

Whether it is “bigorexia” or “manorexia,” it is clear that men are more attuned to their body image than they were a decade ago. Influences of print and screen media sources create societal pressure for not only women to achieve a “perfect body,” but now men are also subjected to unrealistic images and are held up and measured against impossible societal ideals.

Clearly, education is the key to these deep-rooted societal issues. Society must promote and support a healthy, active lifestyle and in turn support men and women who have healthy body images.

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