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‘Thinness vs. Masculinity’ by Spyroulla Spyrou

‘Thinness vs. muscularity’ is the term given to describe the ideal body image as perceived by women, which is thinness, and as perceived by men, which is muscularity. It is generally believed that most women perceive the ideal female body to be tall and slim, and most men perceive the ideal male body to be lean and muscular.

The drive for muscularity, a preoccupation with enhancing musculature, is mostly notable in men. This is in contrast to the drive for thinness and ‘size zero’ most commonly reported by women. In recent years, there has been increasing ‘objectification’ of the male body and especially towards an ideal muscular male body, particularly through advertising and marketing of male cosmetic products . The male body ideal as increasingly portrayed by the media is that of a v-shaped body, broad shoulders with well-developed upper body, flat stomach, six pack abs and narrow hips. Such a male ideal physique portrays muscularity, and thinness, which for most men is impossible to achieve by healthy means.

Women tend to be mostly dissatisfied with their weight, hips, thighs and body size and strive for thinness. On the other hand, men are predominantly preoccupied with the desire to gain muscles, tend to want to be thinner but strive for muscularity . Men who want to achieve such an ideal body focus on losing weight and on increasing muscle tone, which is a dangerous combination and can have serious repercussions on men’s bodies and health. The issue of muscularity is very prominent to ‘muscle dysmorphia’, where the individual is highly preoccupied with gaining muscularity without gaining fat. These individuals are obsessed with the idea that they are not muscular enough and it is also come to be known as ‘bigorexia’ or ‘reverse anorexia’ or ‘Adonis Complex’ a condition which is more common in men than in women.

Both genders aspire to attain aesthetically attractive bodies and are succumbed to strong cultural pressures to achieve these ideal, usually unattainable bodies; where most women strive for thinness and most men strive for muscularity. We live in complex societies with various influential factors that affect and define female and male ideal body physiques. It is widely believed that the media is an influential factor for glamorizing and idealizing unrealistic body images. Other influential factors in defining the male ideal body type and views of muscularity have been found to be family, friends and partners. Within such complex societies huge importance is placed on appearance, where being attractive has come to be equated with being successful. In a recent article on male anorexia, GQ magazine writes ‘the chiseled six-pack…stands for something deeply desired: social acceptance, the love of a parent or partner, happiness’.

There is an evident drive for muscularity in men, to achieve what is perceived to be the muscular male body ideal. Preoccupation with attaining such an unattainable and unrealistic body ideal for most men might be problematic as it can cause body dissatisfaction and even lead to disordered eating, eating disorders or engage in unhealthy means in order to achieve such an ideal e.g. excessive exercising, steroids. Whether it is, thinness or muscularity, both women and men strive to achieve what each one perceives to be an ideal body physique.

Developing a personally healthy satisfaction with one’s body and appearance is a long and complex process. Each person needs to recognise the importance of weight and shape, what can be changed and what cannot be changed. But most importantly what needs to be accepted and truly loved about one’s own body and self. Attractiveness and beauty lies beyond body image and physique and should be found within the individual as a person with a distinct personality, experiences, dreams and hopes.

‘If you would be interested in contributing to a research study which explores men’s experiences and understanding of Binge Eating Disorder then please get in touch with the blog’s author at binge_eating_research@hotmail.com. Your contribution is valuable in helping men with Binge Eating Disorder voice their own experiences’

'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' is a registered charity in England and Wales no. 1139351.

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