The ideal male is “jacked and shredded.” That is what the majority of fitness related media tells men. It is no longer acceptable to just be healthy, men now have to build muscle and look lean. Why?
The roles of men and women have been changing since the late 1950s. These changes are in large part due to women working in traditionally male-dominated occupations. According to research by Susan Alexander published in Sociological Perspectives, the changing roles of women have created a crisis of identity in some males. This has led some men to adopt unhealthy behaviours to distinguish themselves from women, according to a study by Will Courtenay published in Social Science & Medicine. His research suggests that some men will use these behaviours to show that their bodies are more powerful and superior to women’s bodies. This attitude of dominance is supported by research by Viren Swami and Martin Voracek published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Swami and Voracek found that men with a strong desire for muscularity were more likely to objectify women, have hostility towards women, and exhibit sexist attitudes. This male insecurity has resulted in a trend towards body dissatisfaction and a desire to get bigger at all costs.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, muscle dysmorphia (MD) is a type of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) where an individual, usually male, becomes obsessed with the idea that he is not lean enough and his muscles are too small. These males usually have normal or above average muscle mass. Males with MD may diet and workout to the point where their quality of life and health are at risk. Some turn to steroids to increase their muscle mass. A study led by Courtney Pope and published in Body Image, investigated the clinical features of MD in males with BDD. Pope’s team found that when compared to males with just BDD, 50 percent of MD males had attempted suicide, had a poorer quality of life, and a higher prevalence of substance and steroid abuse. Research published in Eating Disorders by Frederick Grieve, suggests that media promoting a muscular ideal is one of several factors that can lead to MD in males.
It is no secret that corporations capitalize on the insecurities of men and women to sell products. According to an IBIS World Market Research Report, health and fitness clubs alone earned $27 billion annually in the United States. With this kind of money at stake, the health and fitness industries create advertising campaigns that promote extreme ideals of the male body to keep men insecure and consuming. These campaigns are extremely effective as Richard Leit and his research team found out. The researchers wanted to see the effects of images of muscular men on 20-year-old males. Leit and his team recorded how the young males viewed their bodies before and after a brief presentation of muscular men. The researchers found that the presentation significantly changed how participants viewed their own bodies. Their study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The portrayal of the ideal male body as overly muscular has even infiltrated male-oriented toys. Research published in Body Image by Timothy Baghurst and his team, looked at the change in physical dimensions of action figures over 25 years. The authors found that neck, chest, arm, forearm, thigh and calf measurements had increased in size by 50 percent or more over the past 25 years. Leit and his team suggest that when compared to the dimensions of an average man, the increase in size of some body parts was unrealistic and unobtainable. This distorted representation of the male body could negatively influence preadolescent male body image and lead to MD later in life. The next generation is primed and ready for the health and fitness industry to manipulate and exploit.
To be jacked and shredded is to be a slave. Every dollar spent on every inch gained and every pound lost will be your tithes to the corporate gods. To be jacked and shredded is to accept the judgment of marketing campaigns that prey upon masculine insecurities and contribute to or aid in the development of potentially serious mental disorders. To be jacked and shredded is to be caught in an endless chase for an illusion. So, is being jacked and shredded worth the price?
Rodney Steadman 17 March 2014
Alexander SM (2003). Stylish hard bodies: branded masculinity in Men’s Health Magazine.Sociological Perspectives, 46 (4), 535-554.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM 5.
Baghurst T, Hollander DB, Nardella B, & Haff GG (2006). Change in sociocultural ideal male physique: An examination of past and present action figures. Body image, 3 (1), 87-91 PMID: 18089212
Courtenay WH (2000). Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men’s well-being: a theory of gender and health. Social science & medicine (1982), 50 (10), 1385-401 PMID: 10741575
Grieve FG (2007). A conceptual model of factors contributing to the development of muscle dysmorphia. Eating disorders, 15 (1), 63-80 PMID: 17162642
Leit R, Gray J, & Pope H (2002). The media’s representation of the ideal male body: A cause for muscle dysmorphia? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31 (3), 334-338 DOI: 10.1002/eat.10019
Pope CG, Pope HG, Menard W, Fay C, Olivardia R, & Phillips KA (2005). Clinical features of muscle dysmorphia among males with body dysmorphic disorder. Body image, 2 (4), 395-400 PMID: 17075613
Swami V, & Voracek M (2013). Associations among men’s sexist attitudes, objectification of women, and their own drive for muscularity. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14 (2), 168-174 DOI: 10.1037/a0028437