Marc A. Silva, Intern Counselor
April 2006

Are men overly concerned with body image issues?

In 1997, American men spent:

  • $4 billion on exercise equipment and health club memberships
  • $3 billion on grooming aids and fragrances
  • $800 million on hair transplants

In 1996, American men spent:

  • $500 million on male cosmetic surgery procedures
  • $300 million on procedures such as pectoral implants, chin surgery, and ***** enlargement
  • $200 million on procedures such as liposuction and rhinoplasty (nose jobs)

It does appear that men are growing increasingly concerned with the appearance of their body, and are willing to fork over millions of dollars to enhance their physical image. The fitness and cosmetic surgery industries have discovered this new demographic and have developed marketing strategies specifically targeted to young men. And while most are not undergoing drastic cosmetic procedures, the rate of hazardous eating and eating behaviors related to body image concerns is increasing.

Over the past decade, men’s body image concerns have gained the attention of many researchers in the field of psychology

  • Research shows that today’s college men are reporting greater levels of body dissatisfaction, and this is true for both gay and heterosexual men
  • Males associate their attractiveness with increased muscle definition, and are concerned about body shape (as opposed to weight) and increasing their muscle mass (Knowlton, 1995; University of Iowa Health Care, 2002)
  • Eating disorders in males typically involve a constant competition to stay more defined than other men (University of Iowa Health Care, 2002)
  • Gay and heterosexual men have equivalent levels of body esteem, satisfaction with body shape, and desired levels of thinness (Yelland Tiggermann, 2003). However, gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to be treated for eating disorders
  • Disordered eating and exercising behaviors among men are associated with obsessive feelings of inadequacy, unattractiveness, and failure
  • The viewing and purchasing of muscle and fitness magazines was associated with body dissatisfaction in both gay and heterosexual men (Duggan & McCreary, 2004)
  • Gay and heterosexual men involved in sports that emphasize strict body weight adherence (such as swimmers, runners, wrestlers, and jockeys) are at higher risk for developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia (Ennis, Drewnowski, & Grinker, 1987; Knowlton, 1995)


The ideal male body is growing steadily more muscular

Hypotheses regarding contemporary men’s body image distress have been presented by researchers in the field of psychology. It appears that the media plays a significant role in this by presenting the public with unrealistic images of the ideal male body. Consider the following:

  • GI Joe is to boys what Barbie is to girls (Pope, Olivardia, Gruber, & Borowiecki, 1999). Over the past 20 years, these G.I. Joe toys have grown more muscular and currently have sharper muscle definition. The GI Joe Extreme action figure, if extrapolated to a height of 5’10”, would have larger biceps than any bodybuilder in history.
  • A Playgirl centerfold model of 1976 would need to shed 12 lbs of fat and gain 27 lbs of muscle to be a centerfold of today (Leit, Pope, & Gray, 2001).
  • In addition, the male body is increasingly being objectified and sexualized in popular print ads. For example, advertisements promoting weight lifting, exercise products, and underwear present the model as dehumanized (the gaze of male model is not at viewer) and the body is objectified (bodies are shown in parts, such as from the shoulders down). Additionally, the naked male body is increasingly portrayed in magazines targeted towards women and gay men.


The drive for muscularity

The Drive for Muscularity – a concept operationalized by psychologist Dr. Don McCreary – represents an individual’s perception that (1) he is not muscular enough, and (2) bulk should be added to his body frame (McCreary & Sasse, 2000).

Research shows that young men tend to see themselves as thinner and less muscular than they actually are. In contrast to women with body image concerns, who typically seek to shed pounds and achieve a specific body weight, men with body image concerns want to bulk up. Because men are socialized not to discuss their body image concerns, their silent anguish may lead to feelings of isolation, distress, depression, and anxiety. The Drive for Muscularity in young men has been associated with low self esteem, neuroticism, and perfectionism (Davis, Karvinen, & McCreary, 2005).

The drive for muscularity becomes pathological when it causes significant distress and interferes with social and occupational functioning. Any of the following signs are cause for concern:

  • Neglecting school, work, family, or friends to spend more time at the gym
  • Persistent fear and anxiety of appearing too small
  • The use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs


Consequences of striving for the ideal body

Young men with a poor body image and a high drive for muscularity often have corresponding feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. In addition, they may be more at risk for abusing anabolic steroids, the health consequences of which are well documented and include a greater risk for coronary heart disease, kidney and liver damage, liver cancer, high blood pressure, and reduced immune system functioning. Side effects specific to men include shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, and increased risk for prostate cancer (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2005).

People who compare themselves to unrealistic images are likely to experience body image dissatisfaction, mental health issues, and threats to healthy physical functioning. Instead of striving for the perfect body, begin to identify the positive parts of yourself and enjoy the body you have!

Further Information:


References and Recommended Reading:

  • Davis, C., Karvinen, K., & McCreary, D. R. (2005). Personality  correlates of a drive for muscularity in young men. Personality and  Individual Differences, 39, 349-359.
  • Ennis, M. P., Drewnowski, A., & Grinker, J. A. (1987). Body composition,  body size estimation, and attitudes toward eating in male college athletes.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 49, 56-64.
  • Knowlton, L. (1995). Eating disorders in males. Psychiatric Times,  12(9): 
  • Leit, R. A., Pope, H. G., & Gray, J. J. (2001). Cultural expectations  of muscularity in men: The evolution of Playgirl centerfolds. International  Journal of Eating Disorders, 29(1), 90-93.
  • Luciano, L. (2002). Looking good: Male body image in modern America.  Hill and Wang
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (2005). Steroids (anabolic-androgenic).  NIDA InfoFacts. Retrieved from:
  • Pope, H. G., Olivardia, R., Gruber, A., & Borowiecki, J. (1999).  Evolving ideals of male body image as seen through action toys. International  Journal of Eating Disorders, 26(1), 65-72.
  • Pope, H. G., Philips, K., & Olivardia, R. (2000). The Adonis  complex: the secret crisis of male body Obsession. Simon & Schuster.
  • University of Iowa. (2002, December 30). Eating disorders and body  dissatisfaction have historically been tagged as women’s problems.  Health Reports: