Effect of Muscularity on Body Image in Heterosexual and Homosexual Men

Objectification theory is generally based on women’s body objectification, but recently researchers have begun to explore how muscularity shapes a man’s image of his own body. Little is known about how exposure to an often unrealistic muscular ideal affects how a man feels about his own body. Although many studies have demonstrated that women’s exposure to thin ideals has negative psychological effects, including self-objectification, body shame, social physique anxiety, and body dissatisfaction, this has yet to be examined in men. Further, until recently, scant research has been done that compares heterosexual and sexual minority men’s self-perceptions based on muscular ideals. To address this gap, Matthew S. Michaels of the Department of Psychology at the University of Florida led a study that evaluated how exposure to muscular ideals impacted men’s self-objectification.

Michaels analyzed reports from 140 heterosexual and sexual minority men who were between 18 and 51 years of age. He found that, overall, none of the participants had significant negative self-perceptions after being exposed to muscular ideals. In fact, he discovered that although the sexual minority men did have moderately higher levels of body dissatisfaction, social physical anxiety, and body surveillance than the heterosexual men after exposure, both of the groups had similar, and relatively level, measures of body shame and muscular motivation. Michaels believes that these subtle differences could be the result of cultural influences. Namely, sexual minority men may fall into specific categories of attractiveness, which causes them to be more inclined to thinness than muscularity, or vice versa. Michaels suggests that this factor be addressed in future research.

The ideal image of thinness that women aspire to depicts a passive and weak portrayal of women that conceptualizes loss of agency. The ideal image of a muscular man implies just the opposite: strength, authority, influence, and increased agency. These differences could explain why men and women have differing self-objectifications when exposed to ideals, although more research in this area is needed. Michaels added, “In conclusion, the results of the present study suggest the need to further isolate the potential body image consequences of various aspects of the body ideal for men (e.g., muscularity, leanness, facial attractiveness, social status).”

Michaels, M. S., Parent, M. C., Moradi, B. (2012, February 13). Does Exposure to Muscularity-Idealizing Images Have Self-Objectification Consequences for Heterosexual and Sexual Minority Men? Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027259

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  • Becki


    February 22nd, 2012 at 5:18 AM

    Women are not alone in feeling bad about their bodies and being give unrealistic images that we feel like we have to live up to. It is the same with men, but you are right, in a different way. Women are supposed to be the thin waifs that the big muscular male should come and rescue.

  • Livingston


    February 22nd, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    As a man I can say that I know it is hards to forever feel like you are having to live up to these standards, and most men will tell you that they ignore them, but as a gay man I can say that this really hits home for me and I think for a lot of other homosexual friends of mine. We are not shallow just very metro and concerned with our looks, maybe in a way that hetero men are not. I know a lot of friends who deal with this and who have even battled eating disorders in that quest for perfection that many people naturally assume is only going to affect females. This is universal, and no matter the culture there is something that tell both men and women alike that they have to meet their standards of beauty or else they are not good enough. When are we all going to stop for a moment and remember that it is what is on the inside that counts?

  • gromst


    December 11th, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    I was watching a video on Youtbe of a guy, like many others, who went from thin to muscular. The concept behind those videos is always the same, basically: thin is bad; muscular is good, with some background music to glorify the muscular figure. In my opinion, those videos are not a good influence for most men as they inted to glorify muscularity as ideal and the real sign of “being a man”.

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