Youth Wasted on the Young: Men’s Perspective on Body Image over Time

As people age, their bodies change. Some men may lose their hair as they enter middle adulthood, and nearly all men gain a little weight. But how do perceptions of masculinity affect body satisfaction in men of varying ages? That was the question posed by Tegan Murray at the Centre for Applied Psychology at the University of Canberra in Australia in a recent study. Studies have demonstrated that body dissatisfaction can lead to many negative psychological outcomes, including eating and food problems, anxiety and depression. But few studies have looked at how gender role conflict (GRC) affects body satisfaction or dissatisfaction over different life phases. Therefore, Murray questioned 156 men ranging in age from 17 to 71 years. The participants were asked about muscle mass satisfaction, height satisfaction and body fat satisfaction. Murray measured how these related to gender norms held by the men.

The first finding revealed that the youngest men, who most likely had the most muscle mass and least amount of body fat, were the most dissatisfied with their bodies on every measure. As the men aged, they were less concerned with muscle mass, as demonstrated by weak links between muscularity and body satisfaction. “Second, age was a significant predictor of body fat dissatisfaction and height dissatisfaction; however, it was not a significant predictor of muscle dissatisfaction,” said Murray. In particular, the more body fat they perceived they had, the less satisfied they were with their bodies.

All the men were relatively unhappy with their bodies if they were shorter than they desired, though it appeared that the oldest men had come to terms with the fact that they were not going to get any taller. The oldest men reported the smallest link between height dissatisfaction and body dissatisfaction. But the youngest men, those who may not have reached their adult height, were most dissatisfied with their bodies relative to their height. These findings suggest that men’s gender roles are intricately woven into their levels of body satisfaction. And although this seems to be a common thread in the fabric of their perceptions, the pattern tends to shift as they age.

Murray, T., and Lewis, V. (2012). Gender-role conflict and men’s body satisfaction: The moderating role of age.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030959

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  • maggie w

    maggie w

    December 21st, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    Don’t you think that overall more young people, men and women, are more sissatisfied then adults are with their bodies?

    I mean, would I like to lose some weight? Of course, most of us do. But am I going to let that obsession ruin my life the way that I may have once allowed it to do? No because I know now that there are far more important things out there than what size I wear.

  • Luci pate

    Luci pate

    December 22nd, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I have never really thought that men had half the issues with body image and dissatisfaction that women have. I guess after reading this I see that I was wrong. Many of them are going to have the same insecurities and fears that women have, they may not be quite as willing to talk about it openly as we are.

  • minson


    December 22nd, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    when you’re young there is societal and peer pressure to stay fit and look great.that goes into a decline for middle aged people.whats also to consider is the level of satisfaction in marriage.when your more satisfied with your marriage you tend to put in more effort into your body.I do that and im sure a lot of others do too.

  • Meg


    December 23rd, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    The difference is that women will obsess over this forever while men can eventually get over it.

  • Dominic


    December 23rd, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    priorities change with age and so does expectations of think that youngsters with least body fat are most dissatisfied may seem a bit off but it demonstrates how much importance they are giving to their bodies.

    but more than importance what’s needed is attention..if you take good care of yourself then you are giving it importance and being satisfied with the results..a win win for you!

    with regard to height,yes I have had friend who were good in every aspect except for height and they were definitely not happy with their bodies..height is overrated in my opinion..if you’re healthy and take care of yourself then it doesn’t matter too much..

  • PP


    December 24th, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    I think too much attention is paid to women’s body image and none to men.We can have problems too!

    As a young man,I did have the normal issues about muscle and fat but now after all these years, when there is no spark in the marriage left, I look at myself and think if my body is to blame. I don’t know if my perceptions are true but I could do with some help. I have no one to talk to and it seems silly to talk to a therapist about this. Not to forget that it is almost a sin if a man has these kind of issues!

  • Jordan Blum

    Jordan Blum

    December 27th, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    The issues of body image, fat shaming and bullying are pretty serious, especially these days when one comment on facebook could send a person into depression with long lasting implications. At young naturists america, we work with people on body image, bullying, body shame and even fat shaming! The results are so impressive and the solution which we found works best with the most amazing positive effects is not as complicated as one might think.

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