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Susan Cowden, MS

Gender Role Endorsement Affects Male Body Image Concerns

By March 28, 2013

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In a recent study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, Australian researchers examined the relationship between self-reported gender role endorsement and body-image concerns in males.  Research participants included 24 males diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, 30 males who use gyms, and 21 males diagnosed with muscle dysmorphia (a condition that occurs when a person believes that his/her muscles are not big enough but often have above-average musculature.)

Through self-report questionnaires, participants were measured on how well they conformed to Western ideas and norms related to masculinity and femininity.  These questionnaires had measures of scales including self-reliance, domesticity, emotional control, winning, investment in children and modesty, among others.  Those men diagnosed with anorexia nervosa had significantly higher scores on scales related to femininity, and those diagnosed with muscle dysmorphia had significantly higher scores on scales related to masculinity.  The control group of 30 male gym users didn't differ statistically on either the scales related to femininity or masculinity.

This underscores the idea that for men who are dissatisfied with their bodies, gender role endorsement (whether masculine or feminine) serves as no protection against disordered eating behaviors and may, in fact, increase the risk towards them.  Although this is only one study, if the results are replicated in future research this could emphasize the need to address gender role beliefs in both treatment and eating disorder prevention programs.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you know males with eating disorders that are excessively masculine or excessively feminine?

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March 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm
(1) juse says:

This has become an epidemic amongst young adults, everyone wanting to blow up their arms like balloons in order to feel good about themselves. A perfect example may be before the future music festival when kids spend 3 months at the gym to get “shredded” so they can walk around topless showing off their tan. Guess what son – you’ve forgotten to train one muscle – your brain! But that doesn’t matter because your going to go earn more than a doctor up in the mines doing a mindless task.
Sure – I meet young people who will be carrying a bottle of water or a fashionable protein shaker around at a party when all of their peers are drinking alcohol because they are trying to “Bulk up” – I admire your dedication. You’re probably still going to die early from all of the chemical supplements you are taking and the stress you are placing on your body from eating such a large quantity offood.

March 28, 2013 at 8:59 pm
(2) Belal says:

This is so true, im a skinny boy in my early teens and it really effects me

March 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm
(3) Paul says:

Yes I began using hormones in my late teens to build muscle that other guys already had. It was an immense source of frustration that no matter how much I ate, I still couldn’t equal their size on the footy field. Sometimes life isn’t fair, thankfully the hormones made myself more confident and restored an otherwise discriminatory disadvantage I had in life.

March 28, 2013 at 10:12 pm
(4) Mark Williamson says:

Thanks for your article, and for bringing this research into the public.

I’m a tall, relatively slim guy in his mid-thirties. I go to the gym for cardio and light weights regularly and have for more than ten years. I have noticed the culture with young men change for the worse over that time.

I can see their desire to change the way they look more than being concerned with their subjective experience of being fit, strong and healthy.

The culture seems to encourage literal narcissism. So many of the guys appear to be getting more self-conscious and more concerned with the size of their arms and chests, and this seems to be inherently related to a pretty base sense of their masculinity.

The role models that are provided in the weight-lifting and sports magazines are increasingly “freaky” and “insane”. These are the actual words that appear in these magazines regularly next to images of men that are quite frankly deformed with ripped musculature. Their facial expressions look like they are about to pop a hernia. Their body size and proportions are simply not normal, and certainly not practical in any reasonable sense.

Feels to me like it is a serious issue, much like body image problems are for women. The obsession with “packing on muscle”, apparently at the expense of a lot of other important things, is similar to the obsession with weight loss and the beauty myth among women.

Men are genuinely suffering from this. It’s not a nice place to be in to be so unsatisfied with your own appearance, even when by all reasonable accounts there is nothing wrong.

March 29, 2013 at 1:45 am
(5) Graeme K says:

*Amazing* study of men in the USA, UK and Australia.
Although I’m not sure that muscle dysphoria is a recognised condition.

Participants need to be randomly selected and hopefully representative enough to have some bearing on the overall population. Random and representative usually helps.

I’m not sure that less that 1% of the male population of the UK, USA and Australia means the authors can generalise to all males. In fact, I would hazard. Hell. I would bet my house that 0.00003739% is on the embarasing side of science. I mean, 75 guys from a total of 200,587,520 is a tad shy of meaningful.

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