Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Building up the male body image


The release of “Skyfall” marks the return to the silver screen of the iconic James Bond, the suave spy who is often described as the “ideal man.” He’s got the smooth moves, the exciting lifestyle, and, of course, the muscular physique many men aspire for.

Even if they aren’t directly emulating 007, many men work out in order to achieve a body like his. Bond may be in his 40s, but men of all ages are increasingly hitting the gym, and are doing so earlier in life than ever before.

According to a study published last Monday in the journal Pediatrics, young boys today are increasingly fixated on the idea of a muscular, chiseled body as the ideal for a man. The study notes that “the use of muscle-enhancing behaviors is substantially higher than has been previously reported and is cause for concern” due to the risky behaviors boys are partaking in to achieve these bodies.

Boys barely into puberty report regular muscle-building workouts, before their bodies are ready for it. Taking supplements in high school is becoming the norm. Perhaps most worryingly, anabolic steroids are increasingly prevalent among adolescent boys, with 6 percent reporting the use of steroids in the Pediatrics study.

Steroids are a health hazard for any person taking them without the supervision of a doctor, and pose particular dangers to young men. Steroids “stop testosterone production in men,” says Dr. Shalender Bhasin of the Boston University School of Medicine to the New York Times. This can lead to serious withdrawal problems when boys in puberty try to take them.

The idea of young adults suffering from body image issues is not new; the issues young women face because of the media pushing the need for unattainable bodies on them are well documented. For young girls, this results in serious health issues like bulimia and anorexia.

But while not taking away from the seriousness of the issue in regards to women, the Pediatrics study shows that body image issues apply to men too. The idea of the perfect female body and perfect male body are pushed onto young adults by American culture, and this results in both young women and men damaging their bodies to achieve it.

For men, the ideal body is muscular, lean and tanned – in the New York Times article, a young man cites soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo as the ideal male body. This body image is the result of traditional stereotypes associated with men, related to a hegemonic form of masculinity that pervades American culture. Men are meant to be physically strong and powerful, able to win fights and dominate others physically. For many men, their identity as males depends on their ability to prove this first in a fistfight.

This unhealthy view of masculinity as dependent on physical power and aggression manifests itself in many ways, from the innocent like a premium on team sports, to the serious like high rates of domestic violence. Here, it results in body shaming those who do not have the ideal male body, and pressures them to go to extreme lengths to attain it. As a result, we see young men taking health risks in order to achieve an unattainable image.

These risks are not just limited to premature body-building, however. Gay men face a particular social pressure to be thin and lean. For example, a College Humor video making the rounds on social media shows a series of gay men threatening to “steal your girlfriends” if straight men don’t change their attitudes. One stereotype associated with gay men on display in the video is the idea that all gay men are thin and lean, with one man simply saying into the camera, “and we [gay men] are in better shape, because we go to the gym. That’s right, we ALL do.”

As a result of this pressure to be thin, gay and bisexual men have a much higher rate of eating disorders than straight men do. Men will suffer from disorders such as bulimia out of a desperate attempt to get thin and achieve the body expected of a gay man.

The perfect and unattainable bodies pushed on young men result in unhealthy behaviors for much the same reason the idealized bodies pushed on young women do so: there is a greater emphasis on beauty than health in American culture. Women are pressured to be skinny, not healthy, and so turn to unhealthy behaviors in order to become skinny. Similarly, young men risk their health in order to get a big body that will look good: bod for the beach, curls for the girls, as the saying goes. The added social pressures of power and aggression result in the idealized male body skewing towards big and muscular.

These pressures need to be removed, or the health and well-being of all adolescents will continue to be put at risk. Young adults need to be educated on the idea of a healthy body, as opposed to a perfect body.

It’s time for society to put the spotlight on other body types, for men and women, besides the traditionally idealized versions we always see, because while a perfect body is attainable by none, a healthy body is a positive goal for all to strive for.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].


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  • D

    David Hunt '90Nov 27, 2012 at 9:11 am


    Of course there’s nothing wrong with striving to be fit. It’s when the ideal goal is, for 90% or more of the population, not attainable – but the cultural message is that one MUST be like this – that is the problem.

  • M

    MikeNov 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Maybe, but there is nothing wrong with being a good athlete. Also, for some their body is a hobby (body builders). So while I agree nobody should feel as though they are forced to fit the “James Bond” mold, there are healthy ways to be very athletic. I won’t accuse somebody who does spend a lot of time working to be happy with their body image in healthy ways of having issues. Being in shape feels good, and it doesn’t have to be as dangerous or painful as many seem to think it does.


  • D

    Dr. Ed CuttingNov 26, 2012 at 11:16 am

    David — I use the term “plastic people” — and what is missing in all of this is that we value people (or should value people) for who they are. For how they add to our lives — and I think that is lost.

  • D

    David Hunt '90Nov 26, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Back in “the day” when I was in my 20’s I worked out six days a week, three hours a day. I lifted weights, did stairmaster, martial arts… and NEVER had that kind of body. (I’ve started reading a really interesting book called “Why We Get Fat”… good stuff so far!)

    The same applies for women, too. I remember many years ago a modeling company put out a call for pictures to find the next teen model superstar. They got over 10,000 submissions – not a random sample, I might add, but people who already thought highly of their appearance – and picked (drum roll): TWO.

    Whether male or female, the images presented in the media of how people “should look” are incredibly unhealthy.

  • D

    Dr. Ed CuttingNov 26, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Billy, I actually might agree with you. Once.

    And I will take it one step further. All the folk who say that it is wrong to look at women as sex objects and the rest, where are they on this? Where are they telling women not to do likewise? They aren’t. And the academic left has thus shown itself to be the hypocrites they are.

    Guys — steroids will f*** you up badly — stay away from them EVEN IF A DOCTOR WANTS TO GIVE THEM TO YOU — get a second opinion from a different doctor (who doesn’t know the first doctor) before you agree to take them. Don’t look at it in the same ResLive mentality of Bud Lite is bad and why you ought to wear your seatbelt and eat your veggies — steroids really *are* dangerous and really *ARE* bad news….

    In terms of messing you up psychologically, IMHO, the only thing worse than steroids is PCP — otherwise known as “Angel Dust.” I don’t scare easily, I have only seen someone on PCP once, and being that scared once in a lifetime is enough.

    Do you folks kinda understand what I am saying about “‘roid rage” and why you want to stay the hell away from that stuff?