Men are subject to issues concerning body image as much as women. Currently, two competing body types dominate the pages of GQ and Men’s Health. The first is a slender, sculpted, almost feminine look (think Brad Pitt); the second is a pumped-up but still low-fat physique (think Nicolas Cage). Both images differ greatly from past ideals of male perfection; not so long ago, the manliest men in popular culture were burly, barrel-chested, even hairy. Think of John Wayne in the ’40s, Burt Lancaster in the ’50s, Steve McQueen in the ’60s, Burt Reynolds in the ’70s — these guys probably couldn’t even point out their deltoids, never mind sculpt them. But this indifference to their appearance only made them sexier. Then came the ’80s, the decade of aerobics, jogging, tofu — and two ubiquitous advertising campaigns featuring male bodies. The Soloflex guy and the Calvin Klein underwear model represented a whole new breed of man. Their bodies, precursors to the Pitt and Cage looks, were hairless and lean, feminized and decidedly self-conscious.
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Now, men were eyeing those diamond-hard abdominals and thinking that maybe, with enough time in the gym, they too could get lean, cut, and muscular. It’s said that women dress to impress other women. Interestingly, men work out to impress other men. Bodybuilders and triathletes have indicated that looking good is an important aspect of sport. The average guy, of course, can no more shape his torso into Marky Mark’s than the average gal can whip herself into Cindy Crawford. But suddenly men were presented with a demanding ideal that seemed achievable through hard work.
These effects are taking their toll on young males as well. A 1998 study* by the University of Minnesota found that boys as young as 10 are taking illegal steroids to do better in sports or actively surfing bodybuilding websites and asking for advice on steroid use. Red flags go up when boys who haven’t even reached puberty are developing serious body image problems.