Male Body Images Suffer in Western Societies

East-West Divide Apparent in Distorted Male Body Images

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Jan. 31, 2005 -- Western men have a much more distorted view of their own bodies than men in Taiwan, according to a new study.

Researchers say the findings suggest that there's an East-West divide in terms of male body image, which may explain why body image disorders, such as muscle dysmorphia, and anabolic steroid use are major problems in western societies yet rarely seen in Asia.

"Our findings suggest that Western men may have a very distorted view of what they ideally should look like, whereas men in Taiwan don't seem to have this problem," says researcher Harrison Pope Jr., MD, director of McLean Hospital's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, in a news release. "These factors may explain why body dysmorphic disorder and anabolic steroid abuse are far more serious in the West than in Taiwan. In fact, we have seen almost no evidence of steroid abuse anywhere in the Pacific Rim."

Body dysmorphic disorder affects about 1%-2% of western men. In one form of the condition, called muscular dysmorphia, men become pathologically preoccupied with muscularity. This condition is growing in prevalence and severity, say the researchers.

They say the western media help drive the "Adonis" image.

East-West Differences in Male Body Image

In the study, researchers asked 55 male undergraduate university students in Taiwan to choose pictures corresponding to:

  • Their own body
  • The body of an average Taiwanese man of his age
  • The body he would ideally like to have
  • The male body he thought women would like best

They then compared the findings to a previous, identical study conducted among 200 men in the U.S. and Europe.

The researchers also estimated the numbers of undressed male and female models in American magazines vs. Taiwanese magazines.

The results appear in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The analysis showed that both western and Taiwanese men would ideally like to be more muscular. But when they were asked to estimate the male body they thought women would prefer, researchers found that the Taiwanese men appeared much more comfortable with their body appearance than their western counterparts.

For example, the western men estimated that women preferred a male body with 20 to 30 pounds more muscle than an average man, while Taiwanese men said there was only a 5-pound difference between the average man and women's preferred man.

The results also showed that American women's magazines portrayed undressed western men more frequently, but Taiwanese magazines rarely portrayed undressed Asian men.

Researchers say those results may reflect western traditions of emphasizing muscularity and fitness as a measure of masculinity and increased exposure of muscular male body images in the western media.

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SOURCES: Yang, Y. American Journal of Psychiatry, February 2005; vol 162: pp 263-269. News release, McLean Hospital.
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