Objective: The authors tested the hypothesis that men in modern Western societies would desire to have a much leaner and more muscular body than the body they actually had or perceived themselves to have.
Method: The height, weight, and body fat of college-aged men in Austria (N=54), France (N=65), and the United States (N=81) were measured. Using the somatomorphic matrix, a computerized test devised by the authors, the men chose the body image that they felt represented 1) their own body, 2) the body they ideally would like to have, 3) the body of an average man of their age, and 4) the male body they believed was preferred by women. The men's actual fat and muscularity was compared with that of the four images chosen.
Results: Only slight demographic and physical differences were found among the three groups of men. Modest differences were found between the men's measured fat and the fat of the images chosen. However, measures of muscularity produced large and highly significant differences. In all three countries, men chose a ideal body that was a mean of about 28 lb (13 kg) more muscular than themselves and estimated that women preferred a male body about 30 lb (14 kg) more muscular than themselves. In a pilot study, however, the authors found that actual women preferred an ordinary male body without added muscle.
Conclusions: The wide discrepancy between men's actual muscularity and their body ideals may help explain the apparent rise in disorders such as muscle dysmorphia and anabolic steroid abuse.