Masculine Norms and Internalization of Body Ideals on Body Image
Lina Ricciardelli, School of PsychologyDeakin University, Australia
Increasingly during the last 10 years, researchers and clinicians have noted the importance that men place on their body image. While many view this as a new phenomenon, the evidence shows that body ideals for men have been valued throughout the centuries and since ancient times (Ricciardelli & Williams, 2012). The main and current body ideal for men in Western cultures is leanness and muscularity but thinness, attractiveness, youthfulness, and fitness are also valued. On the other hand, Eastern cultures traditionally place less importance on the physical body and a higher value on the pursuit of intelligence, justice, purity and celibacy, integrity, and courage. However, there is some evidence that this is changing as studies have shown that non-European men living in Western countries are more at risk of body image problems, disordered eating, and other related health risks behaviors (Ricciardelli, McCabe, Williams, & Thompson, 2007). These differences may in part reflect the changing status quo and power relations for men and/or the higher level of social isolation of men in minority groups when compared to the dominant cultural group(s).
Masculine norms and the internalization of body ideals in the media are central sociocultural factors for understanding the importance of body image among men (De Jesus et al., 2015). Masculine norms reflect and reinforce social and cultural expectations for men to conform to particular behaviors and attitudes. In the words of Thompson and Pleck (1986, p. 53) “they prescribe and proscribe what men should feel and do”. Some of the main masculine norms found among men from Western countries such as the US, UK, and Australia, are the pursuit of winning, power over women, and heterosexual self-presentation. These masculine norms have been found to be related to the internalization of body ideals among men, and typically mirror the content of television and films, where there is an overemphasis on competition and winning, the objectification of women, and an underrepresentation of gay men (De Jesus et al., 2015). Many men internalize these ideals and values, which have then been found to be associated with a higher drive for muscularity and leanness. The drive for muscularity involves a preoccupation with attaining large muscles, whereas the drive for leanness places the focus on attaining a body with well-defined muscles and low fat.
More research is now needed to understand the direction of the above relationships. All the research to date has been cross-sectional so we can not determine whether masculine norms precede or follow internalization of body ideals and body image concerns. Additionally, the majority of studies have been conducted with men who identify as White/European, thus the generalizability of the findings to other ethnic and cultural backgrounds is not possible.
Prevention work is also needed to assist men reject rigid notions of masculinity which highlight the need for power and dominance. The development of broader and healthier notions of masculinity that connect men with other men, family and intimate partners, and that promote rationality, integrity, and free thought, is essential for well-being (de visser & Smith, 2007).