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Authors Murray T, Lewis V
Review Date August 2014
Citation Psychology of Men & Masculinity 2014; 15(1): 40-48
Recent studies have demonstrated that body dissatisfaction is being increasingly experienced by men and boys. Body dissatisfaction is defined by a difference in perceived and ideal body shape, and has been associated with eating disorders, steroid use, and depression. The current masculine body ideal privileges muscularity, and men’s pursuits of this ideal have been linked to their perceptions of masculinity. Given this association it is likely that gender role conflict (GRC)—a psychological state where rigid gender roles result in restriction and devaluation of the self and/or others—is also associated with body dissatisfaction. GRC is less likely to be experienced by older men; however, few studies have examined older men’s body satisfaction.
The aim of this study was to determine how body dissatisfaction might differ across age groups and to examine the moderating role of age (i.e., how it acts at different levels of another variable) on gender role conflict and body dissatisfaction.
Participants were men recruited from the University of Canberra and Southern Cross Health Club. A questionnaire consisting of demographic questions, and two scales on body dissatisfaction and GRC was administered to participants via either the internet or in hard copy. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was used to examine age differences in body dissatisfaction and hierarchical multiple regression was used to assess the moderating effect of age for each body dissatisfaction subscale (muscle, body fat, height).
The study included 156 men ranging from 17 to 71 years. The majority was of Anglo-Saxon descent with just over half in in a committed relationship, and over half had completed all or some tertiary education.
Age differences in body dissatisfaction: Compared to older participants (50-71 years), younger participants (17-29 years) reported higher levels of body dissatisfaction with regards to muscle and height. There were no differences across age for body fat dissatisfaction.
The moderating effect of age: GRC was associated with men’s muscle and body fat (but not height) dissatisfaction such that the more a man prescribed to a rigid masculine gender role the more likely he was to be dissatisfied with his body in terms of muscularity and fat. Age moderated this relationship; in older and middle-aged (30-49 years) men increases in GRC led to large increases in both muscle and body fat dissatisfaction.
Overall, there was little concern with body fat which is consistent with the Western society masculine ideal, the focus of which is on muscularity and not weight. Despite previous research demonstrating a decrease in GRC in men as they age, this study found an association between GRC and body dissatisfaction (muscularity and body fat) that was particularly prominent among middle-aged and older men. The authors suggest that although age may make men less vulnerable to restrictive masculine ideals, for those few who do continue to hold such notions they are much more vulnerable to increased body dissatisfaction. Further, it is suggested that fat was found to be significant for this part of the study because weight gain is more common in older men, and that with age one may accept their height.
Clinicians may wish to identify those who rigidly adhere to restrictive masculine gender roles as being at risk for body dissatisfaction which is known to predate disordered eating behaviours, depression and anxiety.
Points to Note
- Men are increasingly reporting experiences of body dissatisfaction which has been associated with eating disorders, steroid use, and depression.
- The current masculine body ideal privileges muscularity. Those who adhere to restrictive male ideals may be more likely to experience body dissatisfaction.
- Younger men were more likely to be dissatisfied with their muscularity and height.
- The more men adhered to rigid male ideals the more likely they were to report body dissatisfaction with muscularity and body fat (but not height). This association was stronger among older men.
- This study did not assess a possible relationship between participants’ body mass index (BMI) and body dissatisfaction which has been previously found to be associated.
- Due to ethics requirements it was not possible for the authors to identify which location each participant was recruited from and thus to assess the age distributions from each site. Given that those attending a first year university course are likely to be young and that those going to a gym are likely to be concerned with muscularity, it is possible that this could have confounded the findings with respect to the differences observed in body satisfaction across age.