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Men’s Body Image & the Drive for Muscularity

Notes from a Lecture by Dr. Don McCreary


  • back in 1995 it was believed that men were satisfied with their bodies but this belief was based on men scoring low on surveys about thinness
  • not surprisingly, men place less emphasis on thinness and traditional dieting
  • realization was made that the surveys were asking the wrong questions!

Male Ideal

  • men would rather be big then small & the ideal is muscular
  • the drive for muscularity – internalized beliefs that muscular is ideal and the drive to achieve it
  • self-report studies show that men with average body sizes want to gain 33 lbs of muscle
  • men believe their size + 33 lbs of muscle is what women want
  • the reality is that women’s ideal is very close to men’s average body size
  • side note: height is also a major component of male body image and studies consistently show that when men are asked to report their height they reported significantly higher than they were

Media’s Role

  • cultivation hypothesis – the more media saturation of certain types of images (ie. Muscular men or thin women) the more likely people are to believe it as reality and internalize it as ideal
  • for example, studies of shut-ins show that they believe society to be much more dangerous than reality and this misconception comes from spending too much time watching the news
  • action figures have become hyper-muscular over the past 25 years, a trend that is particularly present in G. I. Joe and superhero figures like Batman and Superman
  • if you take G. I. Joe’s stats and translate them to real life, no competitive weight lifter could achieve the muscle size of G.I. Joe
  • video gaming magazines also leads to increase in the drive for muscularity as images are hulkingly muscular but this increase only occurs in white males
  • studies of advertising show that frequent exposure to ads with higher muscle mass led to higher levels of muscle dissatisfaction (video has shown larger impact than still images)
  • what is interesting is that if men are shown images of objectified women it makes them want to be more muscular and increases levels of hostility and anxiety

Muscle Dysmorphia

  • muscle dysmorphia is a growing problem and is a component of Body Dysmorphia Disorder
  • BDD in women manifests with weight but with men it manifests in one of three areas: muscles, lack of hair and penis size
  • 28-68% of average weight men believe they are underweight
  • underweight men have similar psychological instabilities as women who are overweight
  • surprisingly, overweight men are more psychologically sound and feel more attractive

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