New research finds link between lads’ magazines and obsessive exercise to improve body image

weightlifter.jpgMen who regularly read ‘lads’ magazines’ are increasingly obsessive about their body image resulting in them doing excessive exercise and possibly taking steroids to improve their physique, according to a study by University of Winchester psychologist Dr David Giles.

Obsessive exercise to build muscular physique is a psychological condition that affects young men and has been dubbed ‘Athletica Nervosa’ by the media. Dr Giles’ survey, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is the first British study to explore this condition.

Dr Giles, with colleague Jessica Close, surveyed 161 males aged between 18 and 36 in order to examine the influence lads’ magazines have on body image and the drive for greater muscularity. Each male indicated which magazines they regularly read or brought from a list of titles including Nuts, Loaded and FHM, and stated their current relationship status before being scored according to their dietary habits, attitudes towards appearance and exercise regimes.

The researchers found that men who read lads’ magazines, particularly single men, were more influenced by the flawless body imagery promoted by the magazines. “The message in typical lads’ magazines is that you need to develop a muscular physique in order to attract a quality mate,” says Dr Giles. “Readers internalise this message, which creates anxieties about their actual bodies and leads to increasingly desperate attempts to modify them.”

Some of the most worrying findings were that heavy consumers of lad mags think about taking anabolic steroids or use protein or energy supplements as part of their diet and exercise regimes to improve the way they look.

“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,” argues Dr Giles.

The study also found differences between dating and non-dating males. “The effect was stronger among single men than those in romantic relationships. This suggests that dating men are less anxious about their body image,” says Dr Giles. “Although it could simply mean that they have less time to go to the gym when they have a partner.”

Source: University of Winchester