Body Image Dissertation Abstracts and

Author: Helen J. Fawkner
Title: Body image attitudes in men: An examination of the antecedents and consequent adjustive strategies and behaviors
Dissertation Completed: April 2005, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (Advisor / Supervisor: Nancy E. McMurray)

Foundation and rationale of the research

   Although there is a growing body of research examining body image among men, the research has generally focused on one-factor models to explain body image disturbance (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). There has been little consideration of integrative theoretical models (Thompson et al., 1999), a lack of theoretical integration across and within disciplines (Cash & Pruzinsky, 2002), and a focus on pathology linked to body image (Cash, 1996, 2002).
   Based on research and clinical experience, Cash conceptualized the development of body-image attitudes within a cognitive-social learning framework as a way of explaining body image disturbance (see Cash, 1996, 2002, for a detailed explication of the model). Although the model was first presented almost a decade ago, little research into the antecedents and consequences of body image attitudes has been underpinned by this model.


   The aim of this project was to examine the antecedents and experiences of body image attitudes in men. In keeping with Cash’s model, it was proposed that four types of factors shape body image attitudes; physical attributes, personality attributes, cultural influences, and interpersonal experiences. Further, it was hypothesized that there was a bi-directional relationship among body image attitudes and adjustive strategies and behaviours.

Study 1

   Study 1, a qualitative focus-group study, aimed to extend our understanding of how men think and feel about their bodies, the factors that influence body-related thoughts and affects, and to identify some of the psychological and behavioural consequences of these appraisals. Thirty-four Australian men participated in seven focus discussion groups.

Results, Conclusions and Implications

  Ethnographic analysis revealed men perceived body image as a multidimensional construct, encompassing thoughts, feelings, and actions regarding three somatic domains; appearance, fitness, and health, confirming the work of Cash. Men reported that their experiences of body image and the relationships among the multiple aspects of body image was complex, interactive, and influenced by a range of external factors, supporting Cash’s view of the complexity of the body image experience. Among the factors that influenced body image attitudes were age, sexual orientation, relationship status and satisfaction, exercise status and motivations for exercise, identification with media images, and degree of schematicity.

Study 2

   A total of 350 men ranging from 17 to 89 years of age were recruited from community-based organizations across Australia. Physical measures (height, weight) were obtained from all participants. Participants completed a battery of questionnaires that assessed personality attributes (self-esteem, motivations for sport and exercise, narcissism, and neuroticism), cultural and interpersonal factors (age, sexual orientation, exercise participation, relationship status, satisfaction with relationship, and satisfaction with sex life), body image attitudes (e.g., ASI, Cash & Labarge, 1996; MBSRQ, Cash, 2000), and adjustive strategies and behaviors (eating attitudes and behaviors, steroid, recreational drug and alcohol use, body adornment and grooming behaviours).


  Path analysis (using AMOS) was used to examine the relationship among these variables and to test best-fit models for the data. The final model was a well fitting model, and revealed a complex relationship among these variables. There was evidence that physical, personality, interpersonal and cultural factors each predicted body image attitudes. Further, there was some support for hypothesized relationships between body image attitudes and consequent adjustive strategies and behaviours. There was, however, no support for the hypothesis that these relationships were reciprocal. Personality, interpersonal and cultural factors also predicted some adjustive strategies and behaviours. A more detailed account of the findings follows.

Factors Predicting Body Image Attitudes

  Men with higher BMI (specifically obese men, with BMI > 30) were less satisfied and invested in their appearance, but were more preoccupied with their weight.
  Self-esteem and narcissism operated as “protective factors,” and were generally associated with more positive body image attitudes; e.g., men with higher levels of self-esteem and narcissism reported lower levels of appearance schematicity and weight preoccupation, a greater investment in their fitness and health, and were more satisfied with their fitness, health, and appearance. Neuroticism was associated with higher appearance orientation and a lower health orientation.
  Neither relationship status nor relationship satisfaction predicted any body image attitude. Nevertheless, sex life satisfaction was associated with a more positive appearance evaluation.
  Gay men reported greater weight preoccupation, less appearance satisfaction, less fitness satisfaction and investment than heterosexual men. Although gay men reported higher appearance orientation, they did not report higher levels of appearance schematicity.
  Engaging in exercise was associated with more positive body image attitudes. Exercise hours predicted an increased investment in fitness and health, and greater appearance, fitness, and health evaluation. There was however, no relationship between exercise hours and weight preoccupation. Motivations for exercise were important; exercising for weight control was associated with some negative body image attitudes, for example, appearance schematicity and weight preoccupation.
  Older men, as compared with younger men, were less invested and satisfied with their fitness, but more invested in their health and more preoccupied with their weight. Age, however, did not predict appearance evaluation or appearance investment.

Factors Predicting Adjustive Strategies and Behaviours

   Over 70% of men reported engaging in some day-to-day grooming behaviour. Six factors predicted higher levels of grooming behaviour; higher levels of grooming behaviour were associated with being gay, young, in a relationship, and higher levels of narcissism, and appearance and fitness investment.
   Ninety-nine men (28.3%) reported that they had engaged in some form of body adornment. Body adornment was not predicted by any body image attitudes, but was predicted by being gay, young, and higher satisfaction with one’s sex life.
   The majority of men reported that they drank alcohol (92%), and almost one-third of men met the criteria for risky drinking (5+ standard drinks on a typical drinking day). Risky drinking was associated with a lower health orientation, higher appearance and fitness orientation, being younger, single, heterosexual, and possessing more narcissistic tendencies.
   Smokers were in the minority; the rate was lower than that of the Australian population of men (15.7% vs. 23%). In contrast with previous research, smoking was not associated with any body image attitude measured. Like previous research, smoking behavior was most strongly predicted by being young and being gay.
   The rate of steroid usage was consistent with the rates reported in other Australian and international studies (4% vs. between 3-12% respectively). Steroid use appeared to be linked to appearance rather than athletic or job performance. Of 14 steroid users, only two participated in competitive sport, and steroid use was predicted by appearance schematicity and was more common among gay men as compared with heterosexual men.
   The overall rates and nature of sexual activities reported by participants were in keeping with those reported in a national study of sex in Australia. In contrast with other research there was no evidence that body image attitudes underlie sexual risk-taking. In fact, none of the variables measured in this study predicted sexual risk-taking behavior.
   The majority of men showed little sign of eating disturbance; however, a few men (3.14%) had elevated eating disturbance scores that might be indicative of an eating disorder. More negative eating attitudes were predicted by; higher weight preoccupation, low self-esteem, higher health orientation, being younger, exercising for weight control, and was indirectly linked to being gay (i.e., via weight preoccupation).

Conclusions and Implications

  This study was of both theoretical and practical importance. Despite a strong theoretical basis for drawing these types of variables together, no other study has simultaneously examined all of the variables included in Study 2 within one study. Thus, this study provides an important step towards integrating disparate streams of research, which tell us that personality factors, physical attributes, cultural, and interpersonal factors influence body image attitudes and adjustive strategies and behaviours. Additionally, the findings have implications for educational, intervention, and public health strategies to effect positive and improved health and body-related behaviour in men.


Cash, T. F. (1996). The treatment of body image disturbances. In J. K. Thompson (Ed.), Body image, eating disorders, and obesity: An integrative guide for assessment and treatment (pp. 83-107). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Cash, T. F. (2000). User's manual for the Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire. Norfolk, VA: Old Dominion University.

Cash, T. F. (2002). Cognitive-behavioral perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash & T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body image. A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice. (pp. 38 - 46). New York: The Guilford Press.

Cash, T. F., & Labarge, A. S. (1996). Development of the Appearance Schemas Inventory: A new cognitive body-image assessment. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20, 37-50.

Cash, T. F., & Pruzinsky, T. (2002). Understanding body images: Historical and contemporary perspectives. In T. F. Cash & T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body images: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice (pp. 3-12). New York: The Guilford Press.

Thompson, J. K., Heinberg, L. J., Altabe, M., & Tantleff-Dunn, S. (1999b). Exacting beauty: Theory, assessment, and treatment of body image disturbance. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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