Friday, April 04, 2008

Do "Lads Mags" Cause Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

This BBC news story starts off in an ominous fashion, and ends by extrapolating well beyond the study's actual results.
Magazines 'harm male body image'

Younger men who read so-called "lads mags" 1 could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect male physiques they contain, research suggests.

While magazines aimed at men often include pictures of scantily-clad women, Dr David Giles said images of male bodies may be more dangerous.

His work, in Personality and Individual Differences, found regular readers were more likely to exercise to excess.

How are the magazines "dangerous"? And how is "exercise to excess" defined? More from the BBC:
...some of the content may drive men to try to become more muscular, even if that could harm their health.

Together with colleague Jessica Close, [Giles] surveyed 161 men aged between 18 and 36, and found that those who regularly read the magazines were more likely to be influenced by the imagery within.

More worryingly, they said they were also more likely to consider using anabolic steroids to improve their appearance.

OK, so we still don't know the definition of "exercising to excess." Time to look at the journal article (Giles & Close, 2008). The authors administered three questionnaires to 161 males between the ages of 18 and 36 (mean=22.2 yrs). We don't know anything else about the participants, most importantly whether any of them currently or formerly met criteria for any psychiatric illness.

But let's continue. Their exposure to lad magazines was assessed by asking them indicate, on a six-point scale from five (always) to 0 (never), how frequently they read each of these titles (FHM, Nuts, Maxim, GQ, Esquire, Zoo, Loaded, Bizarre and Stuff).
Sociocultural attitudes towards appearance were
...measured by the 21-item Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance Questionnaire – Revised: Male Version (SATAQ-M) (Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer 1995). [NOTE: that paper only contains the female version.] The SATAQ consists of two subscales: Internalization, which measures the degree to which respondents have personally internalised the prevalent attitudes of the media towards thin (female) or muscular (male) body shapes; and Awareness, which measures their acceptance of these standards as generalised social norms.
Finally, the drive for a beefy physique was measured with the 15-item Drive for Muscularity Scale (McCreary & Sasse, 2000), reproduced below.

TABLE 1 (from McCreary & Sasse, 2000). The Drive for Muscularity Scale (DMS; for boys, n=96). Each item is scored on a 6-point scale from never to always. Means and Standard Deviations can be viewed here.

Scale Item
1. I wish that I were more muscular.
2. I lift weights to build up muscle.
3. I use protein or energy supplements.
4. I drink weight-gain or protein shakes.
5. I try to consume as many calories as I can in a day.
6. I feel guilty if I miss a weight-training session.
7. I think I would feel more confident if I had more muscle mass.
8. Other people think I work out too often.
9. I think that I would look better if I gained 10 pounds in bulk.
10. I think about taking anabolic steroids.
11. I think that I would feel stronger if I gained a little more muscle mass.
12. I think that my weight-training schedule interferes with other aspects of my life.
13. I think that my arms are too small.
14. I think that my chest is not big enough.
15. I think that my legs are not big enough.

(a) Reworded in final version to "Other people think I work out with weights too often." (b) Reworded in final version to "I think my arms are not muscular enough." (c) Reworded in final version to "I think my chest is not muscular enough." (d) Reworded in final version to "I think my legs are not muscular enough."

In the Results section, we get no indication of the range of responses on individual items in the Drive for Muscularity Scale (DMS), nor do we see any means or full scale scores. We do get to see a bunch of correlations and partial correlations that suggest to the authors that avid reading of men's magazines is bad (and can lead down the road to ruin, according to the BBC):
Some specialists have dubbed this condition "athletica nervosa", though a more frequently used term is body dysmorphic disorder.

[NOTE: However, individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) have a distorted body image that reaches criteria for a DSM IV psychiatric disorder, and we do not know whether any of the participants in the Giles & Close had actual BDD.]

Dr Giles said: "Men and women increasingly get their ideas of what they should look like from the imagery they see in the media.

"The volume of content is growing and it is trapping young people in particular, into unhealthy obsessions about their own bodies."

The research found that men who were single were far less [sic] more likely to have body image problems than those in a relationship.

Professor Naomi Fineberg, a consultant psychiatrist who runs a treatment service for people with obsessive compulsive disorder, said that men and women suffered equally from body dysmorphic disorder.
But the research paper says nothing about BDD, nor about unhealthy behavior such as exercising to excess or taking steroids. The furthest the authors can go is with a breakdown of the DMS into attitude [questions #1, 7, 9, 11, 13-15] and behavior [questions #2-6,8,12] subscales (and the question about steroids loads very weakly on the behavior subscale).
"Among men, there are those who focus on their muscularity - they may not be seeking aesthetic perfection, but instead some kind of regularity, or symmetry, and they become preoccupied with achieving it. "We can't say for sure whether these magazines might be causing it, but it's very persuasive that cultural factors are important."
But we all know the real reason for the drive for muscularity:
Lift More Weights, Get More Mates: Resesarch Shows Muscular Men Have More Flings, Partners, Affairs

Women don't just like men with muscles — they go for them. Men who are more muscular than average are much more likely to have short-term affairs and multiple sex partners than their scrawnier peers, according to new UCLA research published in the August [2007] issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

"If you're trying to figure out why men — especially young men — spend so much time at the gym, here's your answer," said David Frederick, lead author and a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology. "The stereotype is that men work out to compete with each other, but our research suggests that pumping iron is a way for men to enhance their attractiveness to women."

. . .

When compared with their less-muscular peers, young men who were more muscular than average were twice as likely to have had more than three sex partners in their lives.

. . .

The self-identified muscular men had not only had more sexual partners than their less burly peers, but they were twice as likely to have had brief flings or one-night stands with women. The difference in the number of sexual partners reported by the men who were more muscular than average was also notable: They reported having had an average of four partners, compared with an average of 1.5 partners for men who reported average or below-average muscularity.
UK girls “go for girlie guys over muscle men”

December 20, 2007 –

Put down those free weights and pick up some skin moisturiser and British women may want you that little bit more.

A study from two UK universities has demonstrated that women prefer a softer looking man over a musclehead, which means that the guys who have spent hours in the weights room to impress the ladies, may want to sign up for a yoga class instead.

This news should also encourage any guy who prefers books to bench pressing to go out and get their British girl.

The study was conducted at Universities of Durham and St. Andrew’s, where women were shown photographs of various men and asked to judge them on looks alone.

The women gave men with more ‘feminine’ features such as full lips and wide eyes ‘better’ ratings. Men who had typically masculine facial characteristics such as a strong jaw and small eyes were considered less suitable as potential mates.

Women stated they believed these ‘feminine’ men would be more faithful, make better parents and have warmer personalities than their more macho counterparts.

The women also said that the ultra masculine men would be more dominant partners and were more likely to cheat.

So what's a guy supposed to do? Does it really matter that much if you're American or English? Or is the relevant comparison really hook-up vs. relationship? 2


1 aka "men's lifestyle magazines" in the U.S.

2 Which was, in fact, the actual research result. But it's more fun to say that English girls go for girlie men.


Giles, D, Close J. (2008). Exposure to "lad magazines" and drive for muscularity in dating and non-dating young men. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(7), 1610-1616. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.01.023

Existing research argues that the muscular male body ideal, often promoted in the media, is associated with male body dissatisfaction and increasingly problematic attempts to attain unrealistic body shape by young males. The present study sought to examine the influence of “lad magazines”, a highly popular media sector over the last decade, and also the role of dating, or relationship, status, on the association between internalization of appearance ideals and drive for muscularity. One hundred and Sixty-one males between the ages of 18 and 36 from a UK university completed measures of exposure to lad magazines, eating disturbance, sociocultural attitudes towards appearance, and drive for muscularity. Internalization of appearance ideals was found to be a possible mediator of the relationship between lad magazine exposure and both drive for muscularity and eating disturbance. These effects were significantly stronger among non-dating males, suggesting that, especially for single men, preoccupation with attaining the ideal male body may be enhanced by the use of media that promote traditional masculine ideals.

McCreary DR, Sasse DK (2000). An exploration of the drive for muscularity in adolescent boys and girls. Journal of American College Health 48:297–304.

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At April 04, 2008 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The women also said that the ultra masculine men would be more dominant partners and were more likely to cheat."

Well, yeah. It's a dynamic that this blogger has capitalized on:


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