The Muscular Male Body: Positive and Negative Effects

"Given their poor reception in the outside world, men who are physically weak understandably experience low self-confidence. What's surprising is that their mirror opposites - the hunks and superjocks - often suffer from the same problem."


Looking at the positive side of developing a muscular body we find several benefits. Increased fitness is healthy and the gym provides a raised awareness of the bodies capabilities. The sense of belonging to a socially powerful group of people that comes with being part of a team may increase your self-esteem; your self-esteem may also be improved through the admiration of others for your body. More sexual intercourse may also occur because your body-type is seen as more desirable by men. James Hatzi from Colts Gym in Melbourne, Australia, sees no negative aspects to the pressure exerted on gay men to get a muscular body:

"They've got to eat right to look that way, they've got to exercise. So all the things they are doing are positive. If they build themselves up and look good, they're always going to have a positive outlook. I can see only positive effects of people wanting to improve themselves."

My research suggests that there are positive effects, such as higher levels of self-esteem (but not necessarily), more confidence in themselves, greater fitness and management of health, and the ability to have sex with more desirable partners. But there are also many negative effects which James Hatzi does not mention. Perhaps because he runs a gym? Dr. Lina Ricciardelli, researcher on body image and eating disorders in The School of Psychology at Deakin University, Melbourne, conducted a study that found that gay men had the second highest level of body dissatisfaction after heterosexual women.

Arthur Blouin and Gary Goldfield have also noted that,

"A relationship among self-esteem, proneness to depression, and body dissatisfaction has been reported among both males and females ... Among males, body image concerns appear to be greatest for those who are below average weight for height with serious negative effects on self-esteem and social adjustment. As a result, it has been suggested that men who see themselves as underweight may pursue bodybuilding, male hormones, and steroids in order to attain an exaggerated "hypermesomorphic" look."

But becoming a bodybuilder does not alleviate these problems and indeed probably exacerbates them. Blouin and Goldfield further comment that,

"In addition to the body image dissatisfaction and abnormal eating practices exhibited in bodybuilders, bodybuilders reported perfectionism, feelings of ineffectiveness, low interoceptive awareness, and low self-esteem."

So much for James Hatzi not seeing any negative effects when a person takes up bodybuilding.


One of the most important studies on the muscular mesomorphic body has been undertaken by Marc Mishkind, Linda Rodin, Lisa Silberstein, and Ruth Striegel-Moore. They found that a majority of all men preferred the mesomorphic shape body over the ectomorphic (thin) or endomorphic (fat). Within the mesomorphic category most men preferred the hypermesomorphic or muscular mesomorphic body. They found that men have a greater degree of body satisfaction when their body shape fits this 'ideal'. When there is a gap between their actual and 'ideal' body types, and the greater this gap, the lower their self-esteem. They observed that,

"The discrepancy between self and ideal is problematic only when men believe that those closest to the ideal reap certain benefits not available to those further away. Research strongly suggests that this is true, both because physical appearance is so important generally in our society and because of the specific benefits that accrue to mesomorphic men."

This is particularly true within the gay community, where attraction and sex are based primarily on physical appearance and the muscular mesomorphic shape is seen as the 'ideal'. Indeed, Mishkind et al found that gay men, who place increased importance on aspects such as body build, grooming, dress and handsomeness,

"Expressed greater dissatisfaction with body build, waist, biceps, arms and stomach. Gay men also indicated a greater discrepancy between their actual and ideal body shapes than did "straight" men and showed higher scores on measures of eating disregulation and food and weight preoccupation."


Author: For a longer extract from the paper by Mishkind et al please see the Thesis notes in the menu at left.