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Male Eating Disorders, Part 4: Media Influence

Posted Dec 10 2009 12:00am

I am sure that few of you escaped the recent headlines about Kate Moss and her stated motto, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels", an oft-repeated slogan by those in the Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia movements (see Treatment Notes dated May 14, 2008 ).

Experts and non-experts alike have long debated the media's influence on eating disorders . Recent research has highlighted the affect that media can have on body image and disordered eating behaviors.

However, the focus on the effect of media on male body image and eating disorders is far less prevalent.

Studies show that men are not immune to the effect of the media’s ideal images of body shape and appearance. Just over a decade ago, there were scarcely any magazines devoted to men’s fitness and nutrition. Today, there are more than 20 (Shepphird, 2010).

In my book, 100 Questions and Answers about Anorexia Nervosa, I talk about the fact that our culture is beginning to witness the effect of increasingly muscular male media images on levels of male body satisfaction. For example, one study showed that men who watched television commercials depicting muscular actors reported being unsatisfied with their own physique. Other research has highlighted some of the effects of the fastest growing segments of the entertainment market: video games and action toys. One study found that boys who read popular video game magazines containing very muscular characters reported greater body dissatisfaction than boys who read sports, fitness, and even fashion magazines! (Shepphird, 2020)

Men who report body dissatisfaction are more likely, researchers have found, to display symptoms of an eating disorder and to think about using steroids to enhance their muscle growth. This preoccupation with muscle growth can lead to a condition called “muscle dysmorphia” (sometimes referred to as “reverse anorexia”). Muscle dysmorphia Is a condition in which a person becomes fixated on the idea that he or she is not muscular enough and is inordinately preoccupied with thoughts concerning appearance, especially musculature.

Muscle dysmorphia...steroid use...unhealthy diet habits...eating disorders.

It is time to expand our discussion of media influence on body image and eating disorders to include the effect of ideal images on both females males. The thin ideal may be more prevalent in women's media, but men deserve a discussion of healthy influence and images as well. It is forms of eating disorders that we are trying to combat, after all.

Source: Shepphird (2010). 100 Questions and Answers about Anorexia Nervosa. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. 

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