Are you happy with what you see when you look in the mirror? Are your physical appearance and your body especially important to you? Does your body, in part, define you?
These are questions that have plagued women over the years; in some instances, they have been all-consuming. While many see this as primarily an issue for women, the reality is that men struggle with these questions and struggle with body image. In some cases, this struggle manifests in obsessive behaviors and thinking. Poor body image can lead to self-esteem problems for men. This is often more evident among college men where the climate of attraction and sexualized behavior is magnified.
Often, there is incongruence with perceived self and ideal self in general. This is particularly evident with body image. Men tend to see themselves differently than others see them. Body satisfaction, in turn, is skewed negatively. Would others rate you differently on a scale of 1 – 10 than you would rate yourself? In most cases, the answer is yes. Research shows that on average men rate themselves one point lower compared to the ratings of others. This suggests we are our own worst critic. Many men under-evaluate their physique, focus on perceived flaws, and fixate on not having the ideal male body.
Research shows that men have become increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies. Traditionally the focus of research has been on women. Recently, the literature suggests that body dissatisfaction among men is increasing, particularly with young and college age men. Men typically aspire to the lean, muscular ideal. Prior research showed that 43% of men reported body dissatisfaction. Today the number has increased to more than 50%. This is often marked by discrepancies between perceived and ideal body shape. There can be negative consequences associated with dissatisfaction that may include: excessive exercise, eating pathology, steroid use, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Obviously body image is not an issue for all college men. Many men have a healthy image and a well-shaped self-concept. When issues are evident, it often relates to self-concept — the image that we have of ourselves. When the most salient part of one’s self-concept is body image, it can become particularly maladaptive. These are the men who define themselves based on their body and physical appearance. It becomes the overriding aspect of self-concept and thus, self-worth. Self-esteem is directly linked to their physique and their goal of attaining the perfect body. Perfection is not possible.
As part of our research, a sample of 215 college completed a body image questionnaire developed specifically for this study. Our results found 15% of respondents appeared to meet the criteria diagnostic of maladaptive body image. More than half indicated some level of body dissatisfaction and 86% identified a desire to change parts of their body. It is suggested that body image becomes problematic when it becomes obsessive and maladaptive. Such an obsession and preoccupation was evident in 40% of the sample while 36% agreed that exercise and nutrition interferes with their life on a daily basis. This suggests that body image concerns are evident in over one-third of the sample and is even more salient among college men with over 50% reporting some level of body dissatisfaction – a higher rate than reported in prior research.
Given the prevalence of the problem, what can be done at colleges and universities? It begins with an understanding and recognition of the problem by men and women alike as well as professionals in higher education. With such awareness, programming can be implemented to promote body positivity and wellness. Positive body image negates an obsession for an unrealistic ideal and subsequent maladaptive, irrational behavior and cognition. College campuses can implement programming that promotes a positive body image – a true perception of self, seeing the various parts as they really are, feeling comfortable and confident in one’s body, and engaging in physical fitness and healthy eating to maximize health and wellness.
Campus personnel can take a proactive stance in addressing body image concerns among college men. Be healthy, be happy. Promoting body positivity may accomplish this. The mirror no longer becomes a detriment but rather is a reflection of who you are. Bottom line — make the most of that person in the mirror in all aspects of life.
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