Health: Body Image Struggles Affect Men Too, Study Reminds

While certain physical traits do not go out of style, the standards of physical beauty do not remain the same over long periods of time. You may know how the ideal female body has transformed over the decades. Men, particularly in western countries, are not left behind as the ideal male has seen changes as well.

“If you think about the changes over the last 30 to 45 years in how men are depicted in Hollywood, cartoons, magazines and action toys, you’ll see that men’s bodies [today] appear much more muscular,” said Dr. Harrison Pope of McLean Hospital, Massachusetts in a 2017 interview.

To explore body image concerns in young men, researchers looked at nearly 2,500 American men aged 18 to 32 years. The recent study was conducted by Harvard University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Many participants seemed to feel the pressure to be more muscular, with some young men considering options like anabolic steroids. Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo was cited as the ideal male body to strive for.

Wide shoulders and big muscles were perceived as the basic features necessary for the “perfect” male body. In the new study, body dissatisfaction was most prevalent in younger participants who could be categorized into late adolescence and early adulthood.

“We’ve been aware of young girls and eating disorders for a long time, and how unfortunate it is to grow up with role models that are so skinny,” said Trine Tetlie Eik-Nes, study author and NTNU associate professor. The problem, she explained, was boys tend to be asked the same questions as girls.

“Boys aren’t looking to be thin. They want to have big muscles. So the questions given to girls are totally wrong if we want to find out how young men see themselves and their own bodies.”

The findings revealed gay and bisexual men to have a higher drive for muscularity compared to straight men. But other factors, such as level of education, played no role in predicting body image dissatisfaction.

Those who had a constant obsession with building muscle had a higher risk of depression, binge drinking, and dieting unrelated to obesity. They were also more likely to start using legal and illegal supplements.

As always, it is recommended parents talk to their children to make sure they are not putting their physical or mental health under strain. While daily exercise was healthy, take note if a young boy displayed an excessive and unhealthy preoccupation in striving for muscularity.

“Parents’ alarm bells should go off if they have a youngster who’s at the gym everyday, who just wants to eat chicken and broccoli and who consumes protein shakes or supplements all the time,” Eik-Nes advised.

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