Cultivate Connections

How Men Think About Their Own Bodies

Just as heart disease and alcoholism were once thought of primarily as men’s diseases, eating disorders such as anorexia and binge eating disorder, addictive food behavior and distorted body image have mistakenly been labeled as women’s issues. In the past, men did not experience the same social pressure as women to be body-conscious, so they were less likely to develop an obsession with their size or shape. These days, however, with more male actors and models, athletes and trainers in the media spotlight, men’s attitudes about their health, fitness and appearance have improved. As an unintended side effect, however, men are also as more likely feel pressured to live up to unrealistic standards of an ideal body type.

A national study released earlier this year by Chapman University psychologists found that some degree of body dissatisfaction is experienced by up to 40 percent of men, and that most are concerned about being judged on physical appearance and about being compared to other men in social situations. The psychologists reviewed the results of five large-scale studies that recorded men’s attitudes toward their own bodies and also compared reports from heterosexual and homosexual men. The total number of study participants from all five studies totaled 111,958 heterosexual men and 4,398 homosexual men, with an average age range of 35 to 50.

A greater percentage of homosexual men reported higher body dissatisfaction, felt more pressure to be attractive, felt more strongly they were judged on their appearance, and were more likely to avoid sexual contact because of their own negative feelings about their bodies. Obese men of both preferences were most likely to report negative feelings about their bodies, while men who were classified as either normal weight or overweight were more satisfied with their appearance.

Approximately half the overweight adults in the U.S. are men and up to one-quarter (25 percent) of people diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia are thought to be men. Men often respond to the same social pressure to be fit from peers and media as women, and they have many of the same emotional issues that can lead to disordered eating. They’re less likely to think about their weight and more likely to think about their size and shape. Men are more likely to over-exercise to build muscle than to purge or go on a diet to lose weight, which can sometimes make them appear healthier than they actually are. A man’s physical strength and physique may be covering up psychological turmoil and feelings of vulnerability.

One of the more significant differences between heterosexual and homosexual men reported by the Chapman study was in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery. Homosexual men were more than twice as likely as heterosexual men to be interested surgery, three times as likely to consider surgery, and seven times as likely to have undergone some form of cosmetic surgery. Overall, however, the Chapman study found that the majority of all men felt “okay” or “good” about their face, their weight, their muscle size, their muscle tone, their overall attractiveness, and how they look in a bathing suit.

by, Susan McQuillan
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How Men Feel About Their Bodies

© Susan McQuillan

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