Bigger Muscles Won't Necessarily Attract Women
Aug. 10, 2000 -- Men, as well as women, can suffer from poor
body image. But while many women are convinced they need to be rail-skinny, men
tend to want to be bigger and more muscular -- often because they think it will
impress women. But guess what, guys? Women aren't terribly interested in the
"Men in the U.S. and Europe seem to think that women want
them to be much more muscular than women actually want them to be," says
Harrison Pope, MD, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School who was
part of a team that researched male body image and female preferences.
Worse, says Pope, if the quest for bigger muscles becomes
obsessive, it can become muscle dysmorphia, known in body-building circles as
"bigorexia" or "reverse anorexia." In fact, Pope and other
experts believe the syndrome is related to anorexia nervosa. "They are both
disorders of body image," he says. "Their preoccupations simply go in
For their study, published in the American Journal of
Psychology, the researchers from Harvard and Europe recruited a total of
200 college-age men, from the U.S., Austria, and France. From a stack of
pictures portraying various male body types, each man was asked to choose the
image that most closely resembled his own body, the image that matched the body
he would like to have, the one that looked most like the body of an
average man of his age, and the one he thought was preferred by women.
While the men came close to choosing images that matched their
own bodies and those of an average man their age, in all three countries they
chose an ideal body that was, on average, about 28 pounds more muscular than
their own bodies. They also guessed that women would prefer a male body that
was about 30 pounds more muscular than these men's own bodies.
The researchers then presented the images to 43 college-aged
women from Austria and asked them to choose the male body they liked the most.
The women's choices overwhelmingly showed that they preferred a man who looked
very much like an actual average man in their country. Specifically, the body
that Austrian men thought women would like best was about 21 pounds more
muscular than the body that Austrian women actually preferred.
Could it be that the Austrian women chose the less muscular
build so as not to look shallow? Pope doesn't believe so. "They answered in
privacy with complete anonymity," he says. "If anything, they could
have answered with their fantasy wishes for a big, strong hulk. They
So why do men keep striving for bigger and bigger muscles,
sometimes to the point of obsession? As with anorexia, Pope says, the media and
advertising are to blame for muscle dysmorphia. He notes that over the last 30
years there has been steadily increasing pressure on men to be leaner and more