Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Magazines 'harm male body image'

Obsessive exercise can be damaging

Younger men who read so-called "lads mags" could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect male physiques they contain, research suggests.

While magazines aimed at men often include pictures of scantily-clad women, Dr David Giles said images of male bodies may be more dangerous.

His work, in Personality and Individual Differences, found regular readers were more likely to exercise to excess.

Another specialist said the problem affected men as much as women.

Men and women increasingly get their ideas of what they should look like from the imagery they see in the media
Dr David Giles
University of Winchester

"Lads" Magazines have been increasingly successful in recent years, and have attracted criticism for an alleged potential to exploit women rather than cause problems for their readership.

However, Dr Giles, from the University of Winchester, said that some of the content may drive men to try to become more muscular, even if that could harm their health.

Together with colleague Jessica Close, he surveyed 161 men aged between 18 and 36, and found that those who regularly read the magazines were more likely to be influenced by the imagery within.

More worryingly, they said they were also more likely to consider using anabolic steroids to improve their appearance.

Dr Giles said: "The message in typical lads' magazines is that you need to develop a muscular physique in order to attract a quality mate.

"Readers internalise this message, which creates anxieties about their actual bodies and leads to increasingly desperate attempts to modify them."

'Trapped into obsession'

Some specialists have dubbed this condition "athletica nervosa", though a more frequently used term is body dysmorphic disorder.

Dr Giles said: "Men and women increasingly get their ideas of what they should look like from the imagery they see in the media.

"The volume of content is growing and it is trapping young people in particular, into unhealthy obsessions about their own bodies."

The research found that men who were single were far less likely to have body image problems than those in a relationship.

Professor Naomi Fineberg, a consultant psychiatrist who runs a treatment service for people with obsessive compulsive disorder, said that men and women suffered equally from body dysmorphic disorder.

"Among men, there are those who focus on their muscularity - they may not be seeking aesthetic perfection, but instead some kind of regularity, or symmetry, and they become preoccupied with achieving it.

"We can't say for sure whether these magazines might be causing it, but it's very persuasive that cultural factors are important."

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