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Buff Male Models May Hurt Men's Self-Esteem

Ads With Muscular Male Models May Hurt Men's Body Image
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WebMD Health News

May 7, 2004 -- Commercials featuring topless models with buff bodies and unattainable physiques may make the viewers feel depressed and unhappy with their bodies.

Sound familiar? It is, but this time it's the men's turn to feel insecure.

Researchers say many studies have shown how images of beautiful, Barbie-like models negatively affect women's self-esteem, but this study is among the first to look at how a "culture of muscularity" may affect men's self-esteem.

In the study, researchers found that watching TV images of muscular, shirtless men lifting weights and selling cologne and deodorant left men feeling depressed and unhappy with their own muscles.

Researchers say those feelings may make men more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors, such as using steroids or exercising excessively.

"The level of muscularity and attractiveness that are idealized in the media often are not attainable for the average man," says researcher Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida. "Men see more of a discrepancy between how they want to look, or think they need to look, and the image they see in the mirror. Such discrepancies can cause the dissatisfaction and low self-esteem that lead to extreme and often unhealthy actions, such as eating disorders, exercising too much, and steroid abuse."

Media Images Affect Men's Self-Esteem

In the study, published in the February issue of Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, researchers had nearly 160 male college students watch an old episode of Family Feud, but they were divided into two groups that saw different commercials during the show.

One group saw ads for financial, telephone, and automobile companies that featured men over age 30 dressed in business or casual attire in a home or business setting. The other group saw commercials that featured muscular, young, and bare-chested men hawking cologne or deodorant.

Researchers found the men who saw the buff male model ads reported feeling more depressed and less satisfied with their own muscles than the men who saw the neutral ads.

They say the findings suggest that more research is needed to see how this "culture of muscularity" affects the moods, dieting, and workout habits of men.

"The key will be to help people develop realistic expectations about their appearance, as well as the appearance of others, and avoid buying into ideals that are impossible or unhealthy to attain," says Tantleff-Dunn.

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