Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Men and muscle

According to the Boston Medical Center, approximately 45 million Americans diet each year. For some dieters, losing weight is a health imperative. For many others, however, dieting has to do with body image, and can lead to unhealthy results, especially for women. One study found that images of fat women illicit a reaction in the section of the female brain associated with “unhappiness and self-loathing.” For homosexual men and women, a trait for femininity increases the risk of developing an eating disorder, whereas masculinity is protective against development of an eating disorder. But, men are not immune to societal pressures, and struggle in progressively larger numbers with body image issues.

Current research indicates that many men are becoming increasingly preoccupied and dissatisfied with their bodies, most often associating increased muscle mass with attractiveness. The desire for additional muscle is linked to masculinity. Thus, most men want more muscle—and a lot more. Indeed, popular media portrays unrealistic images of the ideal male body as perfectly toned and significantly more muscular than the average male (the equivalent of the size-zero female model).

Thus, for an overweight man, the challenge is two-fold. The man must lose weight, and gain muscle. However, while gaining muscle is seen as a macho activity, dieting is not. So what do men who want to lose weight do? They drink Dr. Pepper Ten! The ten-calorie drink is marketed as “Not for women!” and serves as a reminder that men do not diet, they drink manly chrome-colored cans of low-sugar beverages. I’m not sure how I feel about the marketing scheme. On one hand, I am sympathetic to an overweight man’s desire to make healthy choices, and am disgusted by the ad. On the other hand, I wish there were more anti-dieting ads, perhaps directed towards young females. …Or maybe I just wish the ads were promoting health, and portraying realistic body images.

Either way, it seems that women are no longer alone in their struggle to win the body-image race.


Ringo1985 said...

I have two comments about this post. The first relates to female body image, and the second concerns the pressure that placed upon both women and men alike to look either "feminine" or "masculine" enough.

Several hours before this post, I watched the show "Toddlers and Tiaras." Now, I am aware that before I criticize the show and it's viewers, I must first admit that I am a culprit as well for watching this show. For anyone who has ever viewed this program, it is basically an exposition of very young girls between the ages of 1-10 years, who participate in a beauty pageant. This pageant is replete with all of the typical features one would see in an adult pageant, including a binkini section where toddlers parade about in their spray tanned, bikini bodies. For me, this is quite the spectacle, and borderline incestuous. For example, one of the father's on the show said something along the lines of "my favorite part is when she gets up there and does some booty shaking" (in reference to his pre-pubescent daughter who was between 8-10 years of age.)

But what is really confounding about this pageant is the manner in which the girls' mothers prepare them for the pageant. Each little girl is spray tanned, some are provided with fake teeth (lest their missing baby tooth show and ruin their "sexy" image), practically all wear fake eyelashes, and every single girl sports a bouffant type hair do that is reminiscent of southern belle debutante balls. Sure, some of the girls "like it," but one really has to wonder if they have a say in the matter. Furthermore, even if some of the little toddlers enjoy the pampering (*exploitation*) that is thrusted upon them by their mothers, there is absolutely no way that these girls will have a chance to look in the mirror and have a healthy body image. How could you? When one is scrutinized at the age of 2 based on their ability to look good in a bikini, the opportunity for a healthy perspective disappears.

Additionally, in reference to your comment about the male "Diet Dr. Pepper," I think you touched upon a relevant issue. It is not considered "manly" to diet, so men have to find ways to look good without openly admitting the tremendous pressure that is placed on them by both women and other men. Now the degrees of compliance with the beauty standard for men obviously varies depending on the person-some men will not feel the need to flaunt large muscles or lose that extra 10 pounds. But for those who do, these men have it just as bad as women if not worse. Men who care about conforming to this beauty standard don't usually openly talk about "their diet."

For example, I consume an energy drink that is marketed towards women. This particular drink comes in different "pastel" colors and the writing on the side of the bottle is geared towards women as well. One day at the gym one of the people behind the desk told me that men oftentimes buy the drink but hide it in their gym bag because they don't want to be seen with a "girly" drink in tow while pumping iron. I found this humorous, but at the same time thought that it was unfortunate men should have to reconsider their choice of drink at the gym for fear of taunting by their gym peers.

Brown Eyed Girl said...

This is a true issue in today's society. What defines the mark of "beauty?" I am reminded of the previous discussion regarding beauty defined by athletic bodies (found in the previous post, "Fighting for Equality").

Recently, media and other organizations have pushed this idea of fitness as a benchmark of healthy lifestyles. Prior to that, the major comparison was between thin, Parisian models and the rest of the world. Are athletic bodies the new test of true beauty?

Certainly, women would agree. But, it seems, men are still conflicted about the application of this standard. In applying this superficial target, men are pressured to attain the slim, "cut" look of many models.

Many men adopt this pressure without question. Thus, they are forced to live up to the expectations of beauty as defined by the media and as interpreted from their counterparts, females. Certainly, women have faced down unfair scrutiny in the arena of body images. But, recently, it appears that men are joining in on this brouhaha.

hanestagless said...

I recently saw the commercial for Dr. Pepper Ten and found it absurd. Its sexism is so blatant to the point of being comical. I’m amazed that someone at Dr. Pepper thought this was a good idea. But, what I found most shocking was that there was even a need for this.

If there was ever a feminine stigma attached to diet soda, it is news to me. To go even further, I didn’t even realize that dieting was unmanly. While weight-loss programs and diet food advertisements typically target women, I’ve never known any men that were self-conscious about making healthy decisions about their food. I’ve known plenty of men who drank diet soda, and none that I knew of were self-conscious about seeming unmanly. Ringo, your story about men at the gym hiding their drink comes as a complete surprise.

Instead, the situation seems as though Dr. Pepper is purposely stirring controversy to garner attention. “One topic people never tire of talking or arguing about is differences between men and women, particularly if women are excluded,” said Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center for Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin. “That will always get someone’s attention.”

Dr. Pepper could have just as easily made a delicious 10 calorie diet soda that they could have marketed to everyone. Instead, like many other products, in the name of specialization, but merely to promote sales, they opt to make their product gendered. To my knowledge, very few of these products actually provide benefits that would be exclusive to one sex.

We will have to wait to see whether this negative attention was worth it. In the meantime, I’m going to ride my dirt bike through the forest, wrestle a bear, and then drink some non-diet soda.

Caitlin said...

This reminds me of a news story I saw on the Today Show this morning. A woman in Washington, after waiting on a table in a bar, received no tip, and instead a note telling her she could stand to lose some weight. Obviously the customer was upset, but chose to attack the female server because of her physical appearance.

While I do think that marketing such as Doctor Pepper Ten are trying to reign in on a market of men who are also concerned about physical appearance, I still think that women are judged far more immediately and solely based on their physical appearance. While this marketing ploys are something different, they still pale in comparison to the amount of ads targeting women reminding them that they could always do more to look like a size-zero, wrinkle-free, blemish-free model.

S said...

When I was in undergrad I was caught off guard to learn that a friend's brother struggled with bulimia. I felt horrible when my initial thought was "Boys aren't bulimic, girls are." I was curious why a guy would be conscious enough about his weight to turn to bulimia. There appears to be a rise in attention given to the male physic.

As Rosalind Gill notes in "Rethinking Masculinity: Men and their bodies," in the 1980's there was an increase of male images in the media. The men in these images are conventionally handsome, young and tone. It appears there is one aspect of stereotyping that men and women share, that people in advertisements are young, beautiful and thin.

Girl Talk said...

I hate, hate, hate the soda industry. I have read and heard numerous reports that along with fast food, soda is the number 1 source of weight gain for Americans.

I have an uncle who is obese and literally drinks a 2-liter of diet pepsi per diem. He used to drink regular pepsi until he had gastric bypass surgery and decided it was time for him to be "healthy." Let's just say that he's still obese and now has to go for dialysis four times a week. He STILL drinks his diet pepsi.

What infuriates me about the soda industry is their marketing of "diet" drinks. They manipulate people into thinking that they are doing something good for themselves. It plays on peoples' sense of guilt and fools them into thinking they are being healthy.

The issue is that there is a disconnect between losing weight to improve body image and losing weight to be health. People who want to lose weight, and perhaps exercise a little but still drink Pepsi Ten and big macs aren't being honest with themselves. They aren't trying to lose weight for themselves, they're doing it for other people. If one truly wanted to be healthy, the soda and processed foods would be cut out almost entirely.