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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