Does Mainstream Media Dictate How We Should Look?

For better or for worse, we are so focused on our identity and how we fit into society; we value beauty over ugliness. Because the media imposes social norms and dictates how we ought to look our sense of identity is heightened. In other words, we compare our bodies to how the media wants us to look. The media believes men should look muscular and intrudes that image into our daily lives (Vartanian, 2009). Sometimes the internalization and belief of these social norms makes those who do not look like how the media wants them to look will inferior to society. No one wants to feel inferior to society’s standards or to others who are the media’s poster people.

For example when we are bombarded with advertisements of Calvin Klein or Polo Ralph Lauren, we see fit and muscular men appear on magazines and television modeling for the brand, not fat ugly looking men. Again, we compare these images with our own bodies and fall into a cycle of despair because we look fat and ugly compared to men. Once we don’t appreciate and respect our bodies for what they are worth then we find ways to make our bodies look fit, exercise being one of them (Hormann and Tylka, 2013). In fact, it has been proven that “males appear to be dissatisfied with their stomach, chest and arms and would like to increase the size (e.g., muscular appearance) of these body parts” and they exercise to solve this dissatisfaction (McCabe and Ricciardelli, 2004 and Ridgeway and Tylka, 2005).

Case in point, gay men tend to be dissatisfied with their body and thus have low self- esteem compared to heterosexual men (Rad and McLaren, 2013). In fact, gay men score higher on self report measures for weight and shape concerns (Hospers and Jansen, 2005). This is because gay men define physical attractiveness as physical strength, upper- body muscularity, and leanness (Yelland and Tiggemann, 2003). Placing a keen sense of this definition of attractiveness makes gay men prone to compare their body stature with other men. If they feel that they don’t match up to other men who are ‘poster- children’ of the definition of attractiveness,  peer pressure kicks in and they will feel inferior and go into a cycle of depression. In order to ‘fit’ in to the stereotypical definition (social normals) of attractiveness they will do things such as exercise.

Interestingly enough, the definition of attractiveness that is widely used in the gay community is conjured up, not by the community itself, but by ” the social environment in which gay men are raised” (psychology today.com). More simply, the media is dictating them on how men in general should look. The media is telling men that looking physically strong, muscular, and lean means being a true man. Then why do men, especially gay men, drink the media’s ‘Cool-Aid’ and exercise? I have one explanation, since gay men are ostracized by main stream society as feminine girly people and they have the notion that big and buff means masculine and by looking this way they will fit into the mainstream society. Thus, gay men exercise “stave off detection of one’s sexual orientation” (psychology today.com) or to compensate for the society’s stereotypes of them as girly creatures.

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