Boys’ Body Image Studied

The media has raised some concern in recent years about young men possibly falling prey to the same societal pressures that ensnare women regarding body image, as an increasing number of attractive and fit men are featured in movies, on T.V. and in advertising.

But new research shows that most young men want an average physique.

“Not all boys aspire to have lean, muscular or idealized male bodies that are commonplace in popular culture,” says Moss E. Norman, who led the study as a post-doctoral fellow at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.

“In many cases, boys who took part in our study were staunchly critical of idealized male images,” he continues. “They found it problematic, feminine or vain to be overly concerned with appearances. Sculpted bodies were seen as unnatural, the product of steroids or zealous weight-lifting.”

A total of 32 Toronto-area boys, aged 13 to 15, were recruited from a community centre and private school to participate in this research. While the sample group was small, the study lasted nine months and included four in-depth interviews and 19 focus groups.

Discussions centered on male bodies, health, diet and physical activity. Participants were asked to comment on popular culture images, such as the animated character Homer Simpson, shirtless models featured in Bowflex home gym commercials and cut athletes from Ultimate Fighting Championships.

“One of the surprises from this study was how comfortable boys were in expressing, analyzing and comparing bodies — their own, their peers’ and those ideals depicted by media,” says Norman, who is now a professor at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management.

“Although they felt pressure to be fit, they displayed a distant, disinterested and cool relationship to their bodies,” he adds. “Some participants also admitted to desiring particular masculine ideals and working on their bodies to achieve such idealized forms.”

This study from Concordia University and the University of Manitoba was published in the journal Men and Masculinities.

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