Pressure to be more muscular may lead men to unhealthy behaviors
Columbus , Ohio -- Women are not the only ones in American society who feel pressure to achieve the perfect body.
New research suggests that men feel pressure to have muscular bodies, and that influence can lead some to symptoms of eating disorders, pressure to use steroids, and an unhealthy preoccupation with weightlifting.
"Men see these idealized, muscular men in the media and feel their own bodies don't measure up," said Tracy Tylka, author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University 's Marion campus.
"For some men, this can lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors to try to reach that ideal."
Tylka presented her research at a symposium August 10 in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
Of course, women have been pressured for decades to achieve a thin ideal, but this is a more recent phenomenon for men, Tylka said.
"Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of men. And you can see that in the media today," she said.
To test how this emphasis on muscularity has affected men, Tylka studied 285 college men. She asked them a variety of questions to determine how much pressure to be muscular that they felt from family, friends, romantic partners and the media.
The findings showed that the more pressure the men felt, the more they felt they had to live up to the ideals.
"They start to believe that the only attractive male body is a muscular one. And when they internalize that belief, they judge themselves on that ideal and probably come up short, because it is not a realistic portrayal of men," she said.
While other studies have suggested men can become preoccupied with their muscles, Tylka said this research shows men are also very worried about their body fat.
"Not only are men being targeted to be muscular, but they also feel they have to be very lean to show off their muscularity."
And the more dissatisfied that men in the study felt with their muscularity and body fat, the more they engaged in unhealthy behaviors, findings showed.
For example, men who were not happy with their muscles were more likely to say that their weight-training schedule interfered with other parts of their life, that others think they work out too much, that they used protein supplements, and even that they thought about using steroids.
Men who were dissatisfied with their body fat were more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders, such as avoiding certain foods, being terrified about being overweight, and being preoccupied with a desire to be thinner.
Tylka said there is a difference between men who exercise and watch their diet for their health, and those who do so because they feel pressure to change their bodies.
"It is good to exercise, to lift weights, and to eat the foods that make your body function well," she said.
"But it is not good to be preoccupied with gaining muscle mass. Those that are preoccupied are not working out to get healthier, they are working out to bulk up. They are not eating healthy, they are cutting out major food groups like carbohydrates and eating massive amounts of protein."
While men in American society are feeling increasing pressures to achieve the perfect body, Tylka said women still get a disproportionate share of the pressure.
"Women still get objectified more than men, but men are feeling the pressure too."
Written by Jeff Grabmeier
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.