Do Men Benefit from Media’s Ideal Male Body Image?

Research has focused on the effect that the ideal female body portrayed in the media can have on a woman’s own body image. However, little research has addressed what effect men experience when viewing ideal male body images. A new study, conducted by researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, focused solely on that issue. “Although previous studies have primarily focused on women, men have become of increasing interest in this line of research because contemporary media places a growing emphasis on the ‘muscular ideal’ for male bodies,” said the team. “Masculinity is associated with dominance and power, and having a muscular physique is seen as a reflection of these characteristics.” Just like women, men can experience many negative effects from poor body image. “High body dissatisfaction can have several harmful consequences for men,” said the researchers. “These include eating pathology, depression, and the use of excessive weight-loss strategies.”

The 50 male Dutch college students enrolled for the study were instructed to rate their body dissatisfaction using the Body Areas Satisfaction Subscale and the Body Esteem Scale, after viewing images of ideal and neutral male bodies. The researchers measured eye movement and the amount of time each participant dwelled on specific body parts, particularly the abdomen and chest. Surprisingly, the results revealed that focusing on ideal male images had no negative effect on the men. In fact, the opposite occurred. They said, “Applying this to our results, men who allocated a large amount of visual attention to the abdomen, and who thus may have been preoccupied with changing their body to increase their masculinity may have adopted a self-improvement motive of social comparison. As a consequence, when exposed to the idealized commercials, they were neutrally or even somewhat positively affected by these images, because they focused on ways to improve their body to achieve the ideal depicted in the commercials.”

Nikkelen, S. W. C., Anschutz, D. J., Ha, T., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2011, August 8). Influence of Visual Attention on Male Body Dissatisfaction After Idealized Media Exposure. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024942

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jace


    August 24th, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    The media really does not focus on an ideal body type for men in the same way that they do men. When men get old they say that they are distinguished. When women get old, that’s just it- they are washed up. Very unfair if you ask me.

  • lacie


    August 25th, 2011 at 3:57 AM

    when two guy friends meet after a long time,they don’t say how much the other has put on weight or whether they look fitter or not…at least not with as much emphasis as women do.add to that the portrayal of women as being objects in the media,it’s not tough to understand why men are not influenced the same way as women are!

  • melli b

    melli b

    August 25th, 2011 at 4:09 AM

    I have to say that I think that there are very few people who benenfit from society’s conceived notion of what they should or should not be.
    Where has the truism of just be yourself gone?
    Most of us spend way too much time thinking and worrying about do we meet the ideals that someone else has constructed for us instead of worrying about just being, and being the best that we can.
    Personally I try to stay away from all of that media junk because typically it only makes me feel worse.

  • F.C


    August 25th, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    Although images of fit and attractive men could make men try to achieve the sane,it’s never going to disappoint or upset them because they cannot have such a body. With women, they take such things so seriously that they need to be convinced about it, they could fall into a depression and what not. That is the difference!

  • E.Morgan


    August 26th, 2011 at 4:27 AM

    I wouldnt think anything negative of myself if I saw a picture of a dude with a great body.I am what I am.Its not like I dont care but then I am me.So such a thing would have zero effect on me.

  • wannabeadoc


    August 26th, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    many of you are going to say, unfairly, that this does not have the same type of effect on men as it does on women but that is not the truth. The truth is that we are all expected to uphold this image of the perfect male or female and while it may not be quite as strong of pressure on a man as it is against a woman, believe me, it is there and we all feel it.

  • Gabe Stevens

    Gabe Stevens

    August 29th, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    I don’t think it really does. Men watch mountains of sports, who involve men at peak physical condition, but not all of them wind up with body image problems. I’ve not known a single man to have any, when I start thinking about it more now.

  • Daniel R.

    Daniel R.

    August 29th, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    @Gabe Stevens: Body image problems are usually a woman’s issue. There’s a reason men’s body image problems are seldom discussed and that’s because they don’t suffer from it nearly as often as women. It’s simply not seen as a major issue, although of course it is to those afflicted by the problem.

  • Kip B.

    Kip B.

    August 29th, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    @Jace – Double standards are everywhere. If a woman is skinny, she’s thought to be beautiful and admired by many. If a man is skinny, he’s a useless 98 pound weakling regardless of his skills-and he certainly does not get the girl in the end.

  • J.K.


    August 31st, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    Do we have a body image for ideal men outside of a 6’0″ Latin Adonis with stubble and a winning smile? You can see it in well-built handsome men at times but unlike the ideal weight and look for women, those men are fit and healthy. Most skinny women are starving themselves.

  • S. Blackstone

    S. Blackstone

    September 3rd, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    It’s good if they can want to emulate an appearance that has strength and handsomeness to it. There’s nothing wrong with having a health conscious, well toned man or woman as a role model.

    How come we can’t do that with women too? Why are runway models considered to have an excellent figure when there probably isn’t one of them that isn’t disgustingly underweight? Haven’t some countries passed laws about using underweight models? It’s appalling.

  • Hector Cranzisk

    Hector Cranzisk

    September 17th, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    Maybe men do put a lot of effort into becoming muscular and having that perfect body. To me this isn’t a problem. Why can’t men aspire to being extremely fit? I think the biggest differences between men and women seeking the perfect body is that there aren’t many unhealthy ways to cheat becoming muscular, I guess steroids would fit into this category but they still require work. Where as women have many unhealthy options that do have the ability to make them skinny. For example when is the last time you’ve of a weight lifting disorder or something similar? NEVER!

  • A guy

    A guy

    October 25th, 2013 at 12:58 AM

    I agree with the findings in this study and can relate it to my place on the planet. Here it is probably a very high pressure on men to look good and have the ideal body, excercised both by men and women. I’d say men face almost all of the pressure in this town. There are poster and commercials everywhere, depecting ideal men with chiseled abs. This town has a very female driven economy (health business) so most commercial target women, which in turn makes pressure fore men greater here.

    Sure, I admit that I felt a bit self-conscious about it in the beginning, but I think most guys suck it up and realize that what is depicted are usually healthy guys with great bodies and build motivation on top of that. At least I’ve done so and I see the health benefits in social pressure. Let’s face it, many men including myself would eat like pigs and be totally passive if not for social expectations, and I’d certainly never consider achieving 9% body fat.

  • futureRD


    September 14th, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    you are all driving me crazy @Gabe Stevens @Daniel R. current studys show that 1/4 people with an eating disorder is male. this statistics can only be discussed by those who get treatment. Women are more likely to get treatment. Body image being affected by the media negatively happens whether you realize it or not. if you are a decently fit guy, or an “average” guy you may not think about it so much. It’s not always those who act on it. Study’s show that men who obsess about there weight and appearance focus mostly on not being to big, but also not being to small. and this happens whether we do something about it or not. If the media made us feel good about ourselves, we would never buy anything and a everyone would be happy with who they are. Plus you don’t know what s going on in someones head. So don’t go saying guys are not effected because guys are just ashamed/scared to tell people they are struggling. so even this study could have tampered results. Its not a study you can accurately get information on. Men and Women just aren’t the same.

  • Abby


    April 21st, 2015 at 11:08 PM

    Hi guys, i want to do a netnography to research how men feel about the idealised male image shown in media. Any suggestions for forums or blogs that I could visit where people discuss this kind of topic on men?

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