Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Muscles Don't Necessarily Make the Gay Man, but They Can Help in His Transformation

Yesterday on the way home from work, I was listening to NPR's afternoon drive home program, "All Things Considered" They had an interesting discussion on male self image. They based part of the piece on a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The article is titled, "Male Body Image in Taiwan Versus the West:Yanggang Zhiqi meets the Adonis Complex"

While the study focused on 55 heterosexual men, some of the finds apply to us and our self body image. Guys in the US and Europe tend to see themselves wanting to get bigger by say, 25 pounds of muscle. Of course, certain gay men in various Yahoo bodybuilding groups, think the ideal figure is 50 pounds of muscle. As usual, we as a group exaggerate. Personally, if you are under 150 pounds, 25 pounds of muscle is more than adequate to carve definition. Anyone over 200 should try to come down 25 pounds and then build muscle definition appropriately.

In the Taiwanese study, the authors hypothesized that Taiwanese men would exhibit less dissatisfaction with their bodies than Western men and that Taiwanese advertising would place less value on the male body thatn Western media. They consider Western men, especially younger guys to display unrealistic body ideals and that Western advertising seems to place an increasing value on the male body (just think the old Marky Mark Calvin Klein underwear ads).

They concluded that Taiwanese men exhibited significanlty less body dissatisfaction than their Western counterparts. In the magazine study, American magazine advertisements portrayed undressed Western men frequently, but in Taiwanese mags, they rarely portrayed undressed Asian men. In summary, they felt that Taiwanese men appear less preoccupied with the male body image than Western societies.. They felt that 1) Western traditions emphasizing muscularity and fitness as the primary measurement of masculintity; 2) increasing exposure of Western males to muscular male bodies in media images, and 3) greater decline in tradition male roles in the West, leading to greater emphasis on the body as a mesure of masculinity.

I learned a new word in all of this, dysmorphic disorder. The term implies that a guy always feels that his self image or what he sees in the mirror is never too muscular enough. He strives for even bigger muscles, no matter the level of his current muscle development.

You guys know me as one who feels that muscles, while playing an important role in self image, do more for you than what we see on the exterior. A flatter stomach helps a guys ward off stroke. More back muscles help support the spine. Being stronger is a benefit, going overboard is a liability.

Too much of anything is necessarily good. Moderation is best in everything we do for or with our bodies. But if we didn't have muscles, how could we give each other big hairy muscle hugs?


Danny said...

Hey Buff!
I love canadians. They're so damn level headed about things. I like the fact that you can discuss topics passionately, but never come off as sanctimonious.


In my heart of hearts, I know I suffer from dysmorphic disorder. People will frequently comment on how big I am, but I just don't see it. Granted, I don't see a skinny little thing in the mirror, and I'm not trying to do something to my body that is genetically impossible, but I honestly don't see the size and growth that other people see.
Such is the complexity of the human psyche.

As for differences in how Asian men and Western men view themselves, there's an implied double standard regarding heterosexual men that was seemingly never addressed in the study you mentioned. It's very convenient in a society still dominated by men to "place less value on the male body" since the male body has the luxury of being accepted unconditionally within the context of that society. I think the final conclusion,
"greater decline in tradition male roles in the West, leading to greater emphasis on the body as a mesure of masculinity" smacks particularly of a male dominated society who doesn't place the same level of importance on female physicality as it does on itself.



Very interesting piece you wrote there buddy. I had just wrote a blog entry on my site because I felt I have been a gym slacker this week. Thanks for your post. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a V shape as opposed to looking pregnant (like most typically straight Americans men do). I don't want a tool shed over my dickie doo!

avrgjoe said...

Interesting post...

I'm not really surprised by the outcome of the study you mentioned. Few places in the world can match the West's preoccupation with outward appearances.

However, I'm not sure I'd have agreed with the study describing the quest for muscular appearances as dysmorphic disorder. To quote the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual), which is used in psychology/psychiatry to diagnose mental illness, one must meet three criteria to be diagnosable as suffering from body dysmorphic disorder:

1) Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person's concern is markedly excessive.

2) The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

3) The preoccupation is not better account for by another mental disorder (such as an eating disorder or a personality disorder).

The 1st criteria says that he would have to see his lack of definition as a defect. I would venture a guess that most muscle-buffs don't look at themselves as defective... perhaps underdeveloped... but not defective. Something to work on isn't a defect... it's... well... something to work on... haha.

That 2nd criteria requires distress to be involved in some way. The men in question would have to have some aspect of their daily functioning disturbed *because* of their lack of muscle definition to fit this criteria. And we're not talking about hiding under a shirt at the gym here, either... haha. Unless he won't go out in public or tries to hide his body because he thinks it's not muscular enough (to the point where he cannot function in society), I would think BDD would be an overkill assessment.

Also, this disorder usually applies to people whose concern is rooted in what others are thinking and how others see their so-called "defect". An example would be someone who thinks his or her nose is so huge and deformed that other people are staring and talking about it all the time (and as you can guess, this disorder often leads people to develop paranoid personalities). I'm no expert on the drive to muscularity... do guys obsessed with getting bigger think other people see them as puny and weak?

I didn't read the study you mentioned, but from what you said about it, I think they left out two other explanations that might fit more people that BDD:

1) Self image satisfaction (wanting to look a certain way to make yourself happy)

2) Good ol' fashioned vanity (which, depending on the way it's channeled, isn't always a bad thing)

Great post, though, and definitely an interesting study that I might try to look into myself. It's always interesting to read studies like the one you mention to compare other researcher's conclusions with those of your own. Well, at least it is for nerdy study-types like myself... haha!

Anonymous said...

This is something that I have noted for some time. Not only are Western men becoming more body conscious, but that we are exposed to a lot more imagesof ourselves then we were say 20 years ago. Further, these images areall of a similar sort - smooth, very well defined, no older than 30.
What disappoints me is the way that we have started to receive these messages as the ideal for men. Many of those models, like many men, are not naturally smooth, and yet more and more I see that gay men are peceiving this as how an ideal man should be. This is disappoiting.
On a personal level, I go to the gym, work out, try to stay fit. Frankly, this is mainly because I can attract a lot more men when I look half way decent. Peronally, I'm not that interested in a perfect body. I often go for guys who are skinny, or slightly overweight. In my experience a perfect body has no relationship with sexiness, skill or chemistry.

buff said...

I definitely agree with all the comments posted.
You guys hit a common chord. It's all about perception. The ideal man doesn't exist. Body image is who we are and what attracts us to other types of men is an individual
choice. Glad guys really don't shave their body hair and are hunky just the way they are. WOOF