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Doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2004.12.002

Do representations of male muscularity differ in David A. Frederick , Daniel M.T. Fessler, Martie G. Haselton 1285 Franz Hall, Department of Psychology, 3rd Floor Mailroom, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA Received 1 October 2004; received in revised form 20 December 2004; accepted 21 December 2004 Men overestimate the degree of muscularity that is attractive to women, and women overestimate the degree of thinness that is most attractive to men. Consistent with the thesis that sociocultural input influences such body type preferences and beliefs, wepostulated that magazines aimed at a male audience would portray a more muscular male body ideal than would magazinesaimed at a female audience. Systematic comparison of popular magazines (Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, andMuscle & Fitness) revealed that the ideal male body marketed to men is more muscular than the ideal male body marketed towomen. We introduce the Physical Trait Overvaluation Hypothesis, which proposes that gender-specific media fuel emphasis oncertain body parts in within-gender prestige competitions. The resulting competitive escalation creates a disconnect between thepreferences of one gender and the personal aspirations of the other.
# 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Body image; Muscularity; Male body ideal; Mass media; Physical Trait Overvaluation Hypothesis; Prestige competition People assess themselves on a variety of criteria, ing images of the idealized male physique, men’s body including their physical attractiveness, by comparing themselves to gender-specific ideals communicated to fitness magazines is correlated with higher levels of body image dissatisfaction and more frequent con- media images of muscular men that exemplify the templation of the use of steroids (e.g., ; contemporary American vision of the ideal male body Media representations of the ideal male body as muscular may influence the body shapes men desireand strive to achieve. Studies have assessed men’s * Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 310 665 0784.
body type preferences by presenting participants with enderflies1@aol.com (D.A. Frederick).
an array of male bodies that vary in percentage 1740-1445/$ – see front matter # 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2004.12.002 D.A. Frederick et al. / Body Image 2 (2005) 81–86 of muscularity and asking men to indicate their Do magazines present different ideals to male and current and ideal body. In these studies, men chose as ideal a body that was more muscular than their currentbody We compared male bodies presented in three types of magazines: Female-Audience (Cosmopolitan), Male-Audience (Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness), and Body-Builder Audience (Muscle & Fitness).
Women in the contemporary West find male bodies Given that men overestimate the level of muscularity that are more muscular than average most attractive, women desire, we predicted that men represented in and men recognize that women prefer these body the Female-Audience magazine would be less muscular than those in the Male-Audience magazines.
The Body-Builder Audience magazine was included advertisements in leading US women’s magazines to establish that the Male-Audience magazines portray (Cosmopolitan and Glamour) observed that images of an ideal that is less muscular than those marketed undressed men increased from 3% in the 1950s to towards individuals interested in muscularity per se, 35% in the 1990s, suggesting that male physiques are and to demonstrate that the rating instrument used in becoming more important to women over time ( this study can discriminate between the levels of muscularity ranging from non-muscular to extremelymuscular.
Overestimating the importance and attractiveness of Publications were selected because they have a wide circulation and/or are marketed to our targetaudiences of interest. Cosmopolitan magazine has a Past research has asked women to indicate the level readership of 16 million women, and 89% of them are of female thinness desired by men, and then separately measured men’s preferences for female thinness.
). The majority of Men’s Health’s readers are men Some results indicate that women overestimate the (85%), and the majority (71%) are between the ages of level of female thinness desired by men (e.g., litan ranked 14th in revenue among all U.S.
although other research suggests that women magazines, Men’s Health ranked 42nd, and Muscle and Fitness and Men’s Fitness did not rank in the top designed for men has shown that men desire a level impression based on the advertisements in these of muscularity that is greater than the level found magazines that Men’s Fitness is marketed to a population similar to that of Men’s Health, whereas Muscle & Fitness is marketed to body-builders.
estimate the level of muscularity women find ideal() and the level women desire ina short-term sexual partner ( We examined whether the contrast between men’s perceptions of women’s preferences and women’sactual preferences is reflected in differences in the We located 100% of the issues of Cosmopolitan images presented by gender-specific media. To magazine published between June 2002 and Septem- explore whether the ideal level of male muscularity ber 2004 (28 issues), 100% of the issues of Men’s presented in media aimed at men differs from that Health from January 2001 to August 2004 (36 issues), which is presented in media aimed at women, we 93% of the issues of Men’s Fitness from January 2002 compared images of men taken from the covers or to August 2004 (27 of 29 issues), and 81% of the issues centerfolds of magazines marketed to each gender.
of Muscle & Fitness from January 2002 to August D.A. Frederick et al. / Body Image 2 (2005) 81–86 Fig. 1. The Muscle Silhouette Measure presents a series of eight images that increase linearly in percentage of muscularity ().
2004 (22 of 27 issues). We made color photocopies of was half way between images 4 and 5, they could the front covers of Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness, and the monthly ‘‘Hunk of theMonth with His Shirt Off’’ centerfold in Cosmopo-litan. We selected the covers rather than advertise- ments because of the widespread visibility of thecovers; even non-subscribers are exposed to the covers Four of the Muscle & Fitness covers featured only at stores and newsstands, hence the covers presumably women on the cover, and two of the Men’s Health covers presented only a man’s face; these issues were Five undergraduate research assistants (two males, treated as missing data. The coders showed high inter- three females) were coders. Ignorant of the hypothesis, rater reliability (Cronbach’s alpha = .96) and a pattern each coder rated the muscularity level of all images.
of high inter-correlations between coders (rangingfrom r = .80 to .90), suggesting that the coders were highly similar in their proportional ordering of images.
A three-way ANOVA was conducted to determine The coders employed the Muscle-Based Silhouette if the magazines differed from each other in terms of Measure (see consisting of eight male images muscularity level, with the following independent ranging from a slender and non-muscular individual variables: Magazine (Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, (Image 1) up to a slender and very muscular individual Men’s Fitness, and Muscle and Fitness), Rater, and (Image 8). The images were drawn from photographs, Image (nested within magazines). There was a representing different levels of mesomorphy, in Sheldon’s The Atlas of Men (1954). The scale has 33) = 57.3, p < .001, partial eta-squared = .840, when good test–retest reliability when used to assess men’s controlling for the effects of Coder, Image nested perceptions of their current level (r = .83) and ideal within Magazine, the interaction of Coder with level of muscularity (r = .89). The validity of the scale was previously confirmed by comparing participants’self-ratings to ratings of each participant’s muscularity by three independent judges using the same form. The ratings made by judges showed acceptable inter-rater Coders were instructed to rate the muscularity level of the man portrayed in each picture using intervals of .25. For example, if they perceived that the Note: Pairwise comparisons revealed that the four magazines dif- muscularity level of the man pictured in the magazine fered from each other at the p < .001 level.
D.A. Frederick et al. / Body Image 2 (2005) 81–86 factor contributing to men’s overestimation of thelevel of muscularity desired by women may be related to the level of muscularity represented as ideal inMale-Audience magazines.
These results indicate that, as predicted, Female- Audience magazines present representations of the The Physical Trait Overvaluation Hypothesis ideal male body that are less muscular than Male-Audience Research to date has documented that exposure to were also less muscular than magazines specifically media representations of same-sex bodies affects viewers’ personal body ideals and their level of bodyimage satisfaction (see Ideal body forms presented in Western media havechanged over time, with declines in female body fat The images displayed in the Male-Audience and increases in male muscularity; correspondingly, magazines may not be typical of all Male-Audience there have been increases in levels of body dis- magazines. Our initial intention was to also code shirtless male images in other Male-Audience ). In making sense of these patterns, many magazines (e.g., Details, GQ, Maxim, etc.). However, review of these magazines revealed that they did not ) argue that individuals assess themselves on a routinely feature shirtless men, with the exception of variety of criteria, including their physical attractive- advertisements for ‘‘muscle enhancement supple- ness, by comparing themselves to gender-specific ments.’’ This led us to evaluate only Men’s Health ideals communicated to them by society. While some and Men’s Fitness. Nevertheless, we believe these version of this explanation is likely correct, it leaves findings are informative given that the covers of these unanswered the question of why the body form held as and similar magazines are the principal source of the ideal by one sex should diverge from the other sex’s images of shirtless men to which large numbers of men ideal for those individuals. Given the often-explicit are exposed in supermarkets, bookstores, and news- linkage between body form and sex appeal, why do stands. Lastly, we cannot rule out the possibility that, women overestimate the level of female thinness because the coders were not blind to the magazine titles, these titles influenced ratings. However, because the coders were not aware of the hypothesized differences between the magazines, we presume the findings are not due to such influence.
Our results suggest that the media plays a role in the misfit between the body form perceived by members of one sex as attractive and that which is actually mostattractive to members of the other sex. While this is In a previous study, 124 college-aged women were congruent with existing explanations of the relation- asked to rate their ideal short-term sexual partner ship between media portrayals and body ideals, it using the same Muscle Silhouette Measure employed raises the question of the source of the disparities between media aimed at one gender and media aimed rating of the muscularity of the Cosmopolitan images at the other. To explain these patterns, it is helpful to closely resembles college women’s mean ratings of examine the processes underlying the acquisition of their ideal short-term sexual partner (M = 4.49, SD = 1.05) but appears more muscular than women’sratings of the average male (M = 2.86, SD = 1.06). The Cosmopolitan images appear less muscular than the In all human societies, people compete for prestige mean ratings of the ideal short-term sexual partner that men believe women desire (M = 5.04, SD = 1.17). One university, prestige competition includes such varied D.A. Frederick et al. / Body Image 2 (2005) 81–86 aspects of the person as the clothes on one’s body or may overestimate include breast and buttock size and the automobile in one’s garage. In addition, around the shape, penis size, foot size, and height (e.g., world, body form constitutes an arena for prestige This account sheds light on the power of the media to influence body ideals and generate body dissatis- The body as an arena for prestige competition faction. The media highlights high-status individuals While some avenues for prestige competition are who display extreme versions of the bodily traits at arbitrary (e.g., fashions and fads), others originate issue, fueling prestige competition. In order to from aspects of life to which the human mind is maintain their preeminence, celebrities must often innately attuned. Given the importance of mate choice work hard to manifest even more extreme versions of for reproductive success, natural selection and sexual the attributes at issue. Similarly, magazines, videos, selection likely endowed the minds of our ancestors and television programs frequently feature relatively with propensities to attend both to particular attributes unknown individuals who, because they display many of the bodies of members of the opposite sex, and to other prestigious attributes (attractive faces, posses- the preferences displayed by such individuals with sion of prestigious objects, an association with regard to the bodies of members of one’s own sex (cf.
attractive members of the opposite sex, and a linkage with themes of sexual success), communicate the The degree and distribution of female body fat is message that they possess a prestigious body form.
likely one such feature because of its role in female The difference in the muscularity of male bodies portrayed in magazines aimed at men and those aimed determinant of male success in hunting and combat in at women is consistent with a pattern in which the ancestral populations, can be expected to have special media fuels gender-specific prestige competition involving body form, enhancing a runaway process Note that we are not claiming that natural selection through which male body ideals diverge from crafted rigid criteria for the evaluation of bodies, a position inconsistent with the evident historical andcross-cultural variation in body ideals. Rather,selection attached heightened salience to some aspects of bodies, female adiposity and male muscularitybeing likely candidates; this salience enhances the This research was supported by generous support likelihood that these aspects will be seized upon as awarded to David Frederick by the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and by the Edward A.
Many forms of prestige competition involve only Dickson Fellowship awarded by the Communication members of one gender. Given differences between female and male bodies, this is probably intrinsicallytrue of prestige competition involving body form.
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