Kelly Rae Chi in Nature:
Historically, women have been the focus of body-image studies. But as men pay more attention to their appearance, researchers are forming a clearer picture of male self-image.
Insecurities about body shape and size are a frustratingly common topic of conversation among groups of women and girls. Body-image research has shown that participating in, or even just hearing, such 'fat talk' fuels appearance dissatisfaction in women. For the past few years, whenever Northwestern University psychologist Renee Engeln presented these results, audience members would ask, 'What about men? Do men do this too?' she recalls. Intrigued by this question, she and her colleagues, based in Evanston, Illinois, designed a fat-talk scale for men. They found that men do it, too, but only in specific contexts1. “Men talk about body dissatisfaction when they're eating and when they're at the gym,” says Engeln. “Women talk about body dissatisfaction when they're talking.”
Feeling bad about one's body is among the strongest predictors for developing an eating disorder, and one of the most modifiable. Interventions aimed at addressing such concerns are better studied in women, who are more likely than men to have a recognizable eating disorder and who have been subject to more of the superhuman beauty ideals that pervade the media. Over the past decade, however, boys and men have been exposed to similarly unattainable standards. The evidence is in the aisles. Superhero costumes for boys feature chiselled abs, and health and beauty products for men line shop shelves. Sales of men's grooming products have skyrocketed across the globe over the past few years. “Men are being addressed as consumers of health and beauty products and services in a very targeted way, in ways they haven't been historically,” says Brendan Gough who studies men's body-image issues and masculinity at Leeds Beckett University, UK. According to Gough, some young men are thought to be injecting the oil synthol into their muscles to make them look larger or taking diet pills that contain the appetite suppressant ephedrine to lose weight. Body dissatisfaction can become an obsession and can lead to clinical disorders (see page S14). These negative feelings can also trigger symptoms of depression.