Media matters for boys too! The role of specific magazine types and television programs in the drive for thinness and muscularity in adolescent boys

Abstract: This study examined the role of specific magazine types and television programs on drive for thinness and muscularity in adolescent boys. A sample of 182 adolescent boys with an average age of 15.2 years completed questionnaire measures of magazine and television consumption, drive for thinness and drive for muscularity. Different media genres showed varying relationships with drive for thinness and muscularity. Specifically, the consumption of men’s magazines and the viewing of soap operas emerged as significant unique predictors of drive for thinness, with the consumption of men’s magazines also offering unique prediction of drive for muscularity. A comprehensive approach that considers both type and genre of media is critical in increasing our understanding of the complex relationships between media exposure and disordered eating in adolescent boys.


Alex’s Notes: Body dysmorphia and dissatisfaction exist in men too, and that is the point of this study. There is an overwhelming focus on women when it comes to self-esteem, eating disorders, and mentality, but young men are just as vulnerable. Really the only difference between girls and boys is that while girls strive for a thinner body, boys have a desire for a larger and more muscular build.

Unfortunately, we cannot really have a discussion on body image without acknowledging the media’s role in providing guidance on what the “ideal” body image is. For males, it was known three decades ago that this is a lean but highly muscular V-shaped figure more commonly known as the “muscular mesomorph”, and nothing has changed. While the current study aims to further our understanding of the media’s role in male body dissatisfaction, a limitation of current research is that it fails to differentiate between types of media exposure. Thus, another aim of this study was to provide a more detailed examination of the differential impact of various magazine and television programs.

Two public schools of medium to high socioeconomic status in South Australia were chosen for participant recruitment. One hundred eighty two predominately white (95%) 9th and 10th grade boys were included in the study. Their average age was 15.2-years and average BMI was 21 kg/m2. The boys were asked how often they read various types of magazines and watched television programs with a 5-point scale, and also completed two disordered eating questionnaires (Drive for Thinness & Drive for Muscularity scales).

Regarding magazines, boys were most likely to report reading men’s magazines (e.g. FHMRalph), followed by sport/fitness magazines(e.g. Sports IllustratedSurfing Life), music magazines (e.g. Rolling StoneSmash Hit), and entertainment magazines(e.g. TV WeekNew Weekly). Very few boys read fashion/teen magazines (e.g. CosmopolitanGirlfriend). The reading of Men’s magazines was associated with both a drive for thinness and muscularity, whereas sport/fitness and music magazines were associated with a drive for muscularity only.

Regarding television, the boys reported watching 17.6 hours of television per week, or just over 2.5 hours per day, and sports programs (e.g. Swimming, The Footy Show) were most watched, followed by dramas(e.g. All SaintsCSI), sit-coms(e.g. Friends, Frasier), music videos(e.g. Video HitsRage), reality programs (e.g. Australian IdolThe Block) and lastly, soap operas(e.g. Home & AwayNeighbours). Interestingly, while soap operas were the least watched program, it was the most strongly associated program for a drive for thinness and muscularity, while reality TV was also associated with a drive for thinness.

Perhaps the most noteworthy find of this study is that men’s magazines are associated with a drive for thinness and muscularity, if for no other reason than that this type of magazine routinely features images of “ideal” women and celebrities coupled with articles about sports, entertainment, and sex. With girls, body dissatisfaction is a result of comparison, but for boys this finding suggests that while some comparison with the men in these magazines is possible, the drive for leanness and muscularity may come from a desire to appear more desirable to the “ideal” women that are featured so heavily in Men’s magazines.

Moreover, distinguishing features of soap operas, which had a stronger association than all other forms of media (magazines and TV), is their “realness” and portrayal that appearance is vital to success. Reality programming came on par with Men’s magazines for a drive for thinness, and also commonly has cast members judged on their appearance that notions success in life being inexplicably linked to body image.

So what’s the catch?

This is all very interesting, no doubt, but several things must be kept in mind. For one, the subjects were all white and came from middle-upper class public schools in South Australia. How socioeconomic status and culture influence body image and its associations cannot be determined from this study, except in this population group. Second, the measurement methods were simple and broad, and the effect sizes of the correlations were only modest in size. Finally, reverse causation must be acknowledge, and while it is tempting to conclude that consuming particular types of media leads to increased drive for thinness or muscularity, it is also plausible that boys who are already concerned about their bodies are more likely to seek out particular types of media.

Hopefully, however, this brings more attention to the male mindset and influential factors.

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