Body image. It’s everyone’s concern. At some point in our lives we’ve all had some form of body image issue, be it big or small. The following is a brief literature review on the matter I had written in 2014 titled: The Impact of Socio-cultural Factors On Body Image in Male Adolescents, which essentially I have used as a follow up and sister article to my rant article on PMM recently, The Stone Cold Truth About Health & Fitness.
Body image concern among young people is by no means a new phenomenon within the realm of the social sciences but plays an important role in our identity and self-concept (Dittmar, 2009). While young children may experience body image concerns (Smolak, 2011), these concerns become increasingly common in adolescence (Levine & Smolak, 2002; Lunde, Frisén, & Hwang, 2007; Wertheim et al., 2009). One of the key influences of adolescents’ body image is the cultural context in which adolescents develop (Ricciardelli, 2012; Wertheim & Paxton, 2011). Young people are likely to experience highly dynamic changes in perception related to their own body image whilst undergoing significant physical changes. These are strongly shaped by emotions, physical sensations, and are particularly vulnerable to the messages conveyed by sociocultural influences (Wertheim & Paxton, 2011). Sociocultural influence draws focus on participation in social interaction through institutional, cultural and historical contexts and is closely linked to psychological development (Paxton et al., 2006). There is little indication of associated research with the focus on direct correlation between sociocultural influences and body image (O’Dea, 2010). Thus, the objective of this literature review is to detail and determine the impact of sociocultural influence on male adolescents’ body image.
Relevant literature was located primarily through systematic searches of electronic databases. CINAHL, PubMed, PsycINFO, and ProQuest were searched for keywords: “Body Image, Adolescence, Culture, Gender, Children”. Search limitations included limiting the articles to the last ten years and limiting the articles to English. Although this was the case the timeline had to be extended for further papers of research. Relative information was also obtained from various additional sources such as textbooks and Google Scholar. The articles chosen were predominantly quantitative in nature. All articles sourced have been systematically reviewed in accordance with the dominant themes.
Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia (2000) acknowledged that when research arose in the 1980s with emphasis on body image, literature was largely gender-biased toward women and girls. Years later, men and boys having previously been overlooked in research, became the focus as body image was undeniably present and extensive (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000).
As young males mature, these powerful proponents such as the Internet, television and magazines convey images of ideal attractiveness, masculinity, shape, size and strength (Tiggemann & Miller, 2010). However, the pursuit and attainment of unrealistic and opposing ideals are evident according to current ideals of western culture and masculinity, those being both lean and muscular. Knauss et al (2007) Believes particular physical features, including age and physical maturation can easily bring adolescents closer to the ideals possessed by the existing culture of masculinity, though these advocated ideals have been identified as mostly unfeasible, increasingly unattainable and only achievable through those sociocultural influences such as digital enhancement. Regardless, the quickly growing pursuit of the muscular male body is still considered ideal and remains an unrelenting concern among many researchers (Frederick, et al. 2012). This has resulted in the broad acknowledgment within the literature (Presnell et al., 2007; Wertheim & Paxton, 2012) noting the complexity of body image, and that the predominant pursuits in these ideals are undoubtedly detrimental to the psychological and physical wellbeing of adolescent males.
An adolescent’s body image may be positive or negative, or may change depending on cultural and contextual cues over the course of their maturation (Tiggemann, 2009; Wertheim & Paxton, 2012). Current research (O’Dea, 2012; Tiggemann & Miller, 2010) suggests strong social and cultural forces influence body image in male adolescents. The degree to which dissatisfaction in body image amid young males has indeed become influenced and affected by sociocultural messages communicated through various proponents such as social media (Jones, Vigfusdottir, & Lee, 2004). Ricciardelli (2012) objectifies that with the rapidly increasing concern of male adolescents’ body image, there is now indication that those who suffer from body dissatisfaction, have also been found to also experience poor self-esteem (Tiggerman 2009, Paxton et al., 2006). Low self-esteem, body image and dissatisfaction share a long history (Striegel-Moore & Franko 2002) including decreased overall well-being (Wertheim & Paxton, 2012) with psychological consequences, such as depression and eating disorders developing later in life (Stice, Hayward, Cameron, Killen, & Taylor, 2000).
Undeniably, the media plays an integral role in people’s perception of their own bodies. As Dittmar (2009) identifies, body image and self-concept play a central role in our understanding of personal identity. O’Dea (2012) Elaborates that body dissatisfaction and diminished self-esteem becomes seemingly insurmountable as the adolescent self-coalesces with sociocultural change throughout puberty. While there is evident concern with mental health, contributing factors may vary, although, negative health outcomes remain identical. It is of immense importance that efforts are made to alleviate the magnitude of body image concerns and related problems in children and adolescents.
Knauss et al (2007) Suggests that ideals presented within the media, fashion, and advertising industries significantly contributes to body dissatisfaction amid adolescents, including the internalisation of unrealistic ideals that are generally not possible. The challenge important purpose of investigating positive body image is to identify strengths that may buffer against the negative body image. If we are able to reinforce these strengths in those at risk, we are well on the road to more effective prevention. O’Dea (2012) stresses the importance of interventions targeting various aspects of the social and cultural context in order to foster change. Accordingly, in the case of media literacy, it is important to target the organizations that promote the unrealistic appearance of ideals and minimize generalization of negative impacts on adolescent mental health (Smolak & Thompson, 2009). The fashion, advertising, media and entertainment industries play a significant role in shaping the cultural ideals of society (Knauss et al., 2007).
Appointed by the Australian Government in 2009, the former National Advisory Group on Body Image, helped develop and implement the Voluntary Code of Conduct on Body Image in an attempt to provide national guidance on issues surrounding body image. Its aim was to encourage and build positive steps toward sociocultural influences and to bring about the long-term cultural change surrounding the entertainment industry, including fashion, advertising, and social media. Principles outlined were to guide industries to adopt a body image friendly practice that encourages the acceptance of diversity, the use of realistic and natural images of people, and evident and honest disclosure when images or media has been digitally enhance for product purposes. These types of adopted approaches appear effective, incorporating community intervention that addresses the prevalence of body image, more specifically within Australia. Ricciardelli & McCabe (2011) reveal adolescents’ body image should be continually investigated through the lenses of culture, gender, and all significant influences. These perspectives are essential if we wish to understand adolescents’ body image, and to discover how adolescents can be encouraged to appreciate their bodies through positive psychology.
The prevalence of adolescent experience with negative body image is indeed worrying and appears fraught with challenges. Negative body image is shown to be complex, problematic, and connected to serious on-going psychological issues of self-esteem and self-worth (O’Dea, 2012) and decreased overall well-being (Meland, Haugland, & Breidablik, 2007). It must be noted that consequences such as eating disorders, depression, and use of illegal PEDs associated with body image can have long-term consequences of both a psychological and physical nature (Stice et al., 2000; Westerberg-Jacobson, Edlund, & Ghaderi, 2010). Given the now ubiquitous nature of these influences among adolescent males and body image concerns, it is evident that there is currently insufficient research to ascertain its true impact, more specifically associated with long term health in young males. O’Dea (2010) identifies the conceptualisation of positive outcomes will need to be precise, thoughtful, and involve community strategy, so that the phenomenon continued to be thoroughly investigated and well understood to preserve the health of younger generations.
With this article in mind, I’m currently writing an article titled: “What does healthy actually look like?”
You’d be surprised.
Until then, stay healthy crew.
Enlighten. Empower. Evolve.
PMM Lifestyle & Performance
AA, BA (Behavioural Sciences) University of Tasmania
MSW & Clinical Counselling Griffith University
Certified Level III/IV Trainer
ASCA Qualified Strength & Conditioning Coach
ASCA Sports Nutrition
ASCA Mentor Coach
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