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The pressure to be perfect: college students and the media

By Alicia Deily

A 2010 study interviewed 224 students enrolled in a communications class at a large southern university; 45% of the participants were men. The study looked at the differences between how men’s and women’s body image is affected by the media. The survey asked about exposure to various aspects of the media (magazines, TV, etc.), levels of personal perfectionism, pressures from family, levels of perceived peer pressure,  and levels of body related self esteem.

The results showed that women received more pressure than men to attain an ideal body from their peers. For men the biggest pressure came from their families. Family pressures were also the biggest predictor for men having low self esteem. The reason for this may be that men tend to talk less with their peers about body concerns. Men bond by talking about less personal topics like sports or politics.

In this particular study, both male and female students did not cite the media as having a major effect on their body self esteem. The study did find that simply being exposed to television and magazines with ideal images, did not affect body image. The act of comparing oneself to the images did significantly decrease body image for both men and women.

Sourced from (APA)- Sheldon, P. (2010). Pressure To Be Perfect: Influences on College Students’ Body Esteem. Southern Communication Journal, 75(3), 277-298. doi:10.1080/10417940903026543

Image sourced from: http://veronicagraham.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/day-50-food-nazi/

A content analysis of men’s magazines: 1993

July 1993 Cover

Image sourced from: http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/gq/8

By Alicia Deily

In 1993, a content analysis was done of the images of men in magazines in male-targeted magazines. Images were looked at from Business Week, Esquire, GQ, Playboy, Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. Only images where men were alone were analyzed. Prior to 1993, only two studies were done on this topic; women’s advertisement received much more attention.

The objective of the study was to analyze the physical characteristics of the men in the images. Body characteristics, facial hair, clothing styles, gaze, and positioning of the head and body were all considered. The sample included 1158 advertisements with GQ contributing the most. The content analysis yielded some interesting results.

Here are some noteable facts from the study:

  • A “hairy, bare-chested male was not common at all amongst the magazines studied. If a chest was exposed, it was completely hairless.
  • In all magazines (with the exception of Business Week), males in advertisements were more likely to be shown from the knees up than in any other way.
  • More than 1/3 of the male models were looking directly at the camera which suggests confidence.
  • About ¼ of the models were looking purposefully away from the viewer but had their body pointing towards the camera. This suggests aloofness and detachment.
  • Out of the three types of bodies (endomorphic- soft and round, mesomorphic- strong and hard, and ectomorphic- thin and lightly muscled), most men had a mesomorphic body type. A few men had an endomorphic body but barely any were showed a ectomorphic type of body. This shows that the least desirable male body type is a thin one.
  • Every magazine except for Playboy and Rolling Stone did portray men with receding hairlines which shows an accurate image of what real men look like.
  • The vast majority of images portrayed clean shaven men. However, Business Week and Sports Illustrated had the highest incidences of men with full beards or mustaches.
  • Men wearing sunglasses were frequently shown because this seems to enhance the aloofness of the model.

Overall, this study was revolutionary for its time. Very few studies had analyzed images of men in magazines. The findings reflect the styles of the times and the way that men are portrayed in American society. The content analysis revealed that men are objectified in advertising. Previously it was believed that only women had to deal with this issue.

The study also showed that men are portrayed slightly more realistically than women in advertising are. For example, men were actually shown with receding hairlines but would a woman with cellulite ever be shown? Most likely not. Lastly, it seems common for men to be aloof and detached which reflects society’s expectations for men to be unemotional and not show weakness.

Sourced from (APA)- Kolber, R. H., & Albanese, P. J. (1996). Man to Man: A Content Analysis of Sole-Male Images in Male-Audience Magazines. Journal Of Advertising, 25(4), 1-20.

The Social Comparison Theory

March 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Image sourced from: http://jagnogaia.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/social-comparison-theory/

By Alicia Deily

The social comparison theory states that humans have a drive to evaluate their opinions and abilities. When there is a lack of an objective physical way to evaluate oneself, one will turn to social comparisons. This theory was proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s. Upward social comparison is when a person compares themselves to someone who they believe is better than them. Downward social comparison is when a person compares themselves to someone who they believe is worse off than them.

This theory was focused most heavily on social comparisons but it also has been used to describe people’s relationship with images presented by the mass media. Once a person has made a comparison between themselves and someone else, the existence of a discrepancy is recognized. Recognizing this will lead a person to attempting to reduce this discrepancy. For example, if a man compares himself with images of idealized muscular men, he will recognize this difference and work to reduce the difference.

During the adolescent years, humans especially look to societal and social cues as to what is considered desirable or normal. Research indicates that more men are using anabolic steroids and untested methods for muscle building and fat burning. This could also lead to an increase in eating disorders amongst men.

Sourced from (APA)- Law, C., & Labre, M. (2002). CULTURAL STANDARDS OF ATTRACTIVENESS: A
THIRTY-YEAR LOOK AT CHANGES IN MALE IMAGES IN MAGAZINES. Journalism &
Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(3), 697-711.

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