We hear a lot about how the Western cultural ideal of an unrealistically skinny female figure can harm women's self-esteem and leave them feeling dissatisfied with their bodies. Now David Giles and Jessica Close have drawn attention to the fact that, with the media's increasing objectification of the male form, men too can be prone to feelings of physical inadequacy.
Specifically, Giles and Close have shown that greater exposure to lads' mags, like Zoo and FHM is associated with men wishing to be more muscular, and with their tending to accept cultural ideals regarding how the male body should be. These magazines tend to make fun of men who fall short of having a well-toned body and they place great emphasis on the importance of being successful with girls.
One hundred and sixty-one men (average age 22 years) answered questions about how often they read lads' magazines. They also completed a questionnaire about sociocultural attitudes towards appearance - for example, they rated their agreement with statements like "In our culture, someone with a well-built body has a better chance of obtaining success". Finally, they completed a questionnaire about their desire and attempts to be more muscular - for example, by rating their agreement with statements like "I think that my weight-training schedule interferes with other aspects of my life".
The researchers found that the degree to which lads' mag exposure was associated with men striving to be more muscular, depended largely on how much the men had come to accept and internalise cultural ideals regarding the male form. A further finding was that this association between the magazines and striving to be more muscular was stronger among single men than among men who were in a relationship.
A weakness of the study is its cross-sectional design: rather than the mags affecting the men, it's perfectly feasible that men who are more concerned with physical appearance tend to read lads' magazines more.
GILES, D., CLOSE, J. (2008). Exposure to lad magazines and drive for muscularity in dating and non-dating young men. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(7), 1610-1616. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.01.023
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.