BW Research Confirms Sculpted Media Images Raise the Bar for Male Attractiveness

January 1, 2012

New research out of Baldwin Wallace University confirms that viewing images of ideal (and perhaps unrealistic) hard-bodied men influences how women rate the attractiveness of the average guy.

Charles A. Levin, PhD, chair of the psychology department at BW, co-authored the study with student researcher Amanda Stanley. The pair will present their findings at the annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science in May.

The aim of the research was to evaluate the impact of the media on what females find attractive in the opposite sex. For the study, 54 female students viewed pictures of men and took a survey. The experimental group was primed with pictures of “ideal-bodied” men. The women who viewed photos of the sculpted men first, rated the attractiveness of average-looking men lower than the control group.

Significant Media Impact On Idealized Body Images

“This finding shows the significant impact the media has on idealized body images in both men and women alike, as our study aimed to show,” Stanley said.

“For years, researchers have shown that advertising has a huge effect on the way men and women view themselves,” says Levin. “They compare themselves to the barrage of ‘Photo-shopped’ and perfected images and it affects self-image. Amanda sought to look at the relationship between the media’s portrayal of what is attractive in men and what college women actually find attractive.”

Ideal "GI-Joe" Figure Leads to Body Dissatisfaction

In her research summary, Stanley concluded, “Just as the Barbie-doll figure is unattainable in real life for women, the GI-Joe figure is unattainable for men. Over the past 30 years, the male ideal has become increasingly muscular. This unrealistic ideal is argued to be the main cause in the surge of body dissatisfaction among men. Television and magazines present images that are airbrushed to perfection, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. The media’s depiction of the ideal body type has created a gap for both genders between what is socially desirable and what can be maintained physically.”

“Perhaps this study will inspire people; demonstrating that it is just as hard to be Ken or G.I. Joe as it is to be Barbie,” Stanley said. “I think it is important to hold true to you own ideas of attractiveness rather than buy into the media stereotype of what is desirable. Maybe by increasing awareness, we can empower people of all shapes and sizes.”

Connection to Eating Disorders?

Stanley takes her findings a step further. “One might wonder if it's possible then to make a substantial decrease in eating disorders and self-destructive behavior and increase the self-esteem of millions of people. After all, each person is beautiful and attractive in their own way, and that should be far more important than how large their muscles are.”