The unrealistic ideals portrayed by many of the models that appear in magazines and on television have been shown to negatively affect the way a number of women feel about their bodies. Now research suggests that the same holds true for men. According to a report in the latest issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, seeing muscular men in ads for cologne and aftershave makes male viewers feel less satisfied with their own physiques.

Stacey Tantleff-Dunn and Daniel Agliata of the University of Central Florida showed a group of 158 male students the same television program with different advertisements. One group saw spots featuring men over 30 wearing suits or casual clothes as they discussed financial, telephone or automobile companies. The ads shown to the second group, in contrast, featured young, muscular and bare-chested men peddling products such as deodorant and cologne. The researchers then quizzed the participants with a questionnaire designed to gauge body image and mood. They found that men who had watched the muscular models reported more dissatisfaction with their own muscles and more depression than did participants who had viewed the neutral ads. "The level of muscularity and attractiveness that are idealized in the media often are not attainable for the average man," Tantleff-Dunn notes. "Men see more of a discrepancy between how they want to look, or think they need to look, and the image they see in the mirror."

The researchers are now working on new methods to evaluate how men perceive their bodies because many of the current methods focus on areas, such as the buttocks and thighs, that may be of greater concern to women than men. More research is needed to better understand just how male body image issues are changing, the authors report, but the key, Tantleff-Dunn says, "will be to help people develop realistic expectations about their appearance, as well as the appearance of others, and avoid buying into ideals that are impossible or unhealthy to obtain."