A 30-Year Look At Changes In Male Images In Magazines
CULTURAL STANDARDS OF ATTRACTIVENESS: A 30-YEAR LOOK AT CHANGES IN MALE IMAGES
CHERYL LYNN LAW
4000 N.W. 51st St.#H-151
Gainesville, FL 32606
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The dominant culture in American society embraces thinness as a cultural
standard of attractiveness for women,  and now boys and young men also are
entering the world of objectified bodies where "impossibly ideal shapes are
displayed as imperatives." A leading expert in male eating disorders, Dr.
Arnold Andersen, conducted a 1985 study on the body images of men and women. In
his study, men responded that the ideal male body and their own bodies were
virtually identical, allowing men to feel comfortable with their weights.
Women, however, responded that their current figures were heavier than their
ideal figures, and Andersen attributed this to the cultural ideal of thinness
women experienced. However, a 1995 study indicated that males now
overestimate the muscular definition of the ideal male body and inflate the
chest size they believe women find most attractive. Another study showed
that men are catching up with women when it comes to being dissatisfied with
their bodies, with 55 percent of women dissatisfied with their appearance versus
45 percent of men. Andersen now says, "We are seeing increases in body-image
distortion and distress in males." His observation comes while other
researchers are pointing to an "explosion of men's shape and fitness magazines
in the past decade" and at a time when men increasingly are opting for
cosmetic surgery such as liposuction for "love handles." A recent article in
Men's Health reported a 35 percent increase in the past four years in the number
of men having plastic surgery. Men also are increasingly using steroids to
enhance their athletic performance and their appearance. In a survey of
high school football players in Oregon, researchers found that steroid use
climbed from 1 percent in 1987 to 7 percent in 1991. But overall, very
little research has quantified these observations. This study was designed to
analyze media content to determine if an unrealistic cultural ideal of
attractiveness has emerged for men and to discover if men are being increasingly
bombarded with that image.
Some researchers believe that mass media images of unrealistic cultural
ideals of attractiveness contribute to psychological distress and related
disorders. One researcher found that women exposed to pictures of thin
models reported lower self-evaluations than when shown pictures of average or
overweight models. Another researcher found that teenage girls compare
themselves to models in advertisements more than teenage boys and that they
fantasize about looking like the models to whom they compare themselves.
However, she believes that as the media continue to feature idealized male
bodies, personal appearance may become more important for males and cause them
to make more "ad-inspired" comparisons. Further, she wonders whether making
these comparisons and fantasizing about looking like the models produces a
"longing so acute that it creates grave body image distortions and unhealthy
eating or compulsive exercising in an attempt to emulate the ideal."
Although estimates vary, health officials believe approximately seven
million females and one million males in the United States suffer from eating
disorders. Ninety percent of adult patients are women; however, the number
of male patients with eating disorders is increasing, and in children, boys now
account for 25 percent of the cases. Andersen states that males with eating
disorders have been "relatively ignored, neglected, and dismissed because of
statistical infrequency" or thought not to exist because of theoretical
While anorexia has been reported in Western society since the 1600s and
bulimia dates back 2000 years to the ancient Romans, only in this century has
society seen it spread in epidemic proportions. Researchers tend to agree
that there is no single cause for eating disorders, but these disorders
predominantly occur in developed Western societies. While the mass media
may not directly cause eating disorders, they may be a contributor, and the
explosive growth of the mass media in the past few decades could explain why
there have been more cases reported now than ever before.
In addition to eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders are similar
diseases that involve body dissatisfaction and image. Researchers now call the
trend in which young men and some women are preoccupied with their degree of
muscularity, dissatisfied with their bodies, and are using anabolic steroids to
change the look of their bodies "reverse anorexia" or "muscle dysmorphia." It
is unclear whether this type of disorder is more common today or if it has
simply become more recognized. Because many people suffer from low
self-esteem, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorders, it is important to
continue research that may explain how the mass media directly or indirectly
contribute to them.
Regardless of the fact that men and women may have different goals in
reaching the cultural ideal of attractiveness, both seem vulnerable to lowered
self-esteem and body image problems that may contribute to eating and body
dysmorphic disorders as well as other high risk behaviors. Contradicting past
research, a recent study that examined the body shape satisfaction and
self-esteem of a group of men and women found that the general level of
unhappiness with one's body was similar for both sexes. Also, body image and
self-esteem were significantly correlated for both men and women. Andersen
argues that the ratio of diet articles found in popular women's magazines
compared to those found in men's magazines correlates almost exactly with the
documented ratio of females to males having eating disorders, both in the
general population and at treatment centers. In one study, Andersen found that
magazines most frequently read by females contained 10 times as many diet
articles and advertisements as in magazines read by men, and he states that this
"10-fold difference in diet-promoting content is almost identical to the
difference in the numbers of females vs. males with eating disorders." Many
researchers have conducted studies that showcase thinness as a criterion of
attractiveness for women in the mass media and have concluded that this standard
is thinner now than ever before. One researcher hypothesizes that the
increased cultural attention given to the male body and the increasing demands
on men to achieve the ideal will result in more men experiencing body
dissatisfaction, preoccupation with weight, and concern with their
attractiveness and body shape now than even two decades ago.  And while
eating disorders in women are widely recognized, diagnosed and treated, doctors
are less likely to think of diagnosing eating disorders in men; therefore men
are less likely than women to receive treatment. And "men succumb to eating
disorders for some of the same reasons as women - - low self-esteem and poor
body image." Because little research has been conducted regarding eating
disorders and body dissatisfaction with men as the focus, a cultural standard of
attractiveness for men is not well documented. This research helps fill a void
in the literature on the subject.
Until recently, physical attractiveness has been demanded of women
primarily; but now with cultural changes in our society, men also are being
told what they should look like and how they can develop that look. Men usually
are not idealized in society for being thin as much as for having a particular
shape, although males who work in professions in which weight loss is a
requirement appear to develop eating disorders as frequently as a similar group
of women. One study showed that one of the most common reasons for dieting
among men with eating disorders was to "to develop the appearance of a model in
a magazine." More men are dieting, exercising and becoming compulsive about
these activities - feeling guilty, depressed or anxious if they skip a workout.
Recent research suggests that "between the ages of thirteen and thirty, one in
approximately four hundred men have an eating disorder." One survey found
that 41 percent of high school boys are now dieting, compared to 4 to 24 percent
in past studies.
Far more women than men suffer from eating disorders and body
dissatisfaction; however, men only recently have been subjected to a culture
that emphasizes male beauty. As a result, most of the research regarding these
problems have women, not men, as their focus. By quantifying a trend in the
cultural ideal of attractiveness for men, this research may allow others to
discover how and how much the media contribute to any increase in body
dissatisfaction. While advertisers, models, modeling agencies, and others in
the entertainment industry do not disagree that there is a current standard of
thinness for women portrayed in the mass media, there is disagreement between
these groups about whether this standard is responsible directly or indirectly,
if at all, for the current epidemic of eating disorders among young women today.
And while there is extensive literature on women and eating disorders and
whether the mass media contribute to them, the questions of "how" and "how much"
they contribute have not been answered. Such research regarding the "infancy"
of the male body-image phenomenon may also "expose some clues to the causes of
women's distressed relationship with food."
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Definition of Terms
Two of the most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Anorexia nervosa is a "potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by
the refusal to eat enough to maintain body weight over a minimal norm for age
and height, as well as an intense fear of gaining weight, and body image
disturbances. Bulimia nervosa is defined as "a pattern of binging (eating
large quantities of food in discrete intervals of time) followed by attempts to
compensate for the excessive caloric intake by vomiting, using laxatives, severe
restrictive dieting or fasting, or over exercising." Although these two
diseases are different, they do have at least one thing in common -- people
suffering from eating disorders are all most likely to evaluate themselves on
only a single dimension: body shape equals self-esteem. Similarly, both
diseases can have fatal consequences.
Researchers are just beginning to refer to body dysmorphic disorders that
involve a "distressing or impairing preoccupation with a nonexistent or slight
defect in body appearance." "Muscle dysmorphia," also known as "reverse
anorexia," is a type of body dysmorphic disorder and is a growing phenomena used
to describe young men's use of anabolic steroids to change the look of their
bodies, while another researcher defines it as "the fear and belief of being
small, when actually large and muscular." Muscle dysmorphia can occur in
both genders but is more common in males. Those suffering from the disorder
engage in behaviors such as "lifting weights, eating large amounts of food and
special diets, mirror checking, constant comparison with others,
reassurance-seeking behavior, camouflaging with clothing, and wearing extra
layers of clothing to enhance their apparent size." Also, they tend to
experience impaired relationships because of embarrassment about their bodies.
Body image is defined as the view or concept of one's own body, including
what one sees when one looks from the outside or "_our reflection in the mirror
perhaps or our impression on the bathroom scales." One's body image is
formed in part by how we compare ourselves to others; an important part of the
self-definition process is comparing oneself to others in a social
Social Comparison Theory - An Overview
In 1954, Dr. Leon Festinger based his Social Comparison Theory on two
assumptions. First, humans have a drive to evaluate accurately their opinions
and abilities, and second, social comparisons occur when there is no objective
physical way to evaluate oneself. He also believed that in the absence of
physical or social comparisons, self-evaluations are unstable, and that
comparisons tend to be made with people who are similar to oneself in ability or
opinion. Once the comparison is made, assuming that the person wants to be
similar and ranks the other as superior, the existence of a discrepancy between
oneself and the comparison will lead to an action on the part of the person
doing the comparing in order to reduce the discrepancy. For example, a
runner may compare his time to run a certain distance to another runner's time
to evaluate how fast he can run, then train harder to improve his performance.
A person who compares himself to a "model painstakingly prepared to appear
attractive" is likely to evaluate his own attractiveness negatively and to
decide to diet or make a purchase to improve his looks.
Social comparison that occurs when an average person compares himself to a
carefully crafted picture of a model can be called "upward comparison." Upward
comparison occurs when a person compares himself to others who are superior to
or better off than himself. While these comparisons may tend to be
unfavorable to one's self-concept, they can lead to self enhancement or self
improvement. In Western culture, there is a value in what is better -- for
example, a higher score on a test is more desirable than a lower score. There is
continuous pressure to do and be better and better in society. This pressure
dissipates on people who are better than average, but not everyone can be better
off than everyone else, so for most, the pressure never stops. The pressure
toward uniformity also can be seen as one toward a cultural ideal, such as the
influence on women in Western society to be thin. In one study, women were
asked to rate what they thought was the cultural ideal and how close their
bodies came to reaching it. The cultural ideal was found to be very thin, and
the farther away from the ideal the women rated themselves, the more their body
satisfaction declined. A similar study using men as subjects found that the
male ideal body is mesomorphic or very muscular, as opposed to ectomorphic (very
thin) or endomorphic (very fat), and that those who rated themselves as closest
to the ideal were happier with their bodies.
According to Festinger, a person can avoid comparing himself to ideas or
opinions that are different than his own by rejecting the people in the group
who hold those differing opinions, but this is possible only when a group has a
range of opinions. For example, in one experiment, one person of a group of
three was given a high intelligence score. The other two lower-scoring people
in the group stopped competing with the person with the high score and only
competed with each other. Because there was a range of scores, they were able
to reject the person with the score higher than their own. However, if
thinness for women and a muscular, V-shaped body for men are the cultural ideals
and if the mass media portray only a narrow range in this cultural ideal, it may
not be possible to reject these images and not compare oneself to them. When
the person doing the comparing finds he falls short of the cultural ideal, he
will feel pressure to reduce the discrepancy between himself and that ideal.
Finally, an increase in the importance of an ability or opinion or an increase
in its relevance to immediate behavior will increase the pressure toward
reducing discrepancies concerning opinions or ability. The more attractive the
group or ideal is to a person, the more pressure that person will experience
concerning uniformity to the group ideal.
Festinger mainly discussed social comparisons in relation to opinions and
abilities of similar others. However, other theorists, such as Dr. Lori Irving,
have expanded his 1954 theory. She used social comparison theory to explain
that physical attractiveness is one way people compare themselves to others, and
she argued that these comparisons also can be made against images in the mass
media. In one study she found that women gave their bodies lower evaluations
after being exposed to pictures of thin models. She called this example of
reporting lower self-evaluations after an upward comparison "contrast effects."
Contrast effects occur when the judgment about one person or object is altered
by the judgment about another person or object. One example is overestimating
the weight of a heavy object after an initial experience with a lighter object.
Or, as another researcher confirmed, contrast effects occur when subjects were
asked to evaluate their own attractiveness after viewing pictures of attractive
or unattractive models. When viewing unattractive same-sex models, the subjects
evaluated their own attractiveness as greater than if they viewed attractive
Other researchers have found more evidence for contrast effects. When
subjects compared themselves to attractive peers, they rated themselves as less
attractive. Interestingly, when the same people compared themselves to
professional models, a contrast effect did not occur. The researcher pointed
out that although this study did not support contrast effects in this case, one
"cannot rule out potential effects of long-term media exposure to cultural
standards of beauty."
Women, and now maybe men, have been exposed to an increasing emphasis on
the value of physical attractiveness through the mass media. Media images have
exploded in huge proportions in the 1990s compared to the 1950s when Festinger
first posited his theory. While no one succumbs to the cultural ideal from
seeing one media image, seeing repeated media images, combined with other risk
factors, may explain why some women and men develop eating disorders and/or
abuse steroids and develop distorted body images. There is some evidence that
people with high self-esteem engage more in self-enhancing comparisons than do
those with lower self-esteem. And when these high self-esteem people do
engage in upward comparison, they usually do so for an incentive to change and
improve, with a positive effect on their self-esteem. So while self-esteem can
be lowered by social comparisons, those who make more upward social comparisons
often have lower self-esteem to begin with. Lack of self-esteem and self-worth
are two of the major contributors to eating disorders. Other major contributors
to eating disorders include an excessive concern with dieting and weight and
an excessive concern with attaining lean body mass, the latter of which is also
a major contributor to steroid abuse. Both behaviors could be seen as a way
to bridge the gap of discrepancy between one's body and the cultural ideal.
Men, Mass Media and Eating Disorders
While most of the literature available reflects the idea that female images
of perfection permeate the mass media and that these images have an impact on
young women, many researchers are asking why the new glamorized ideal of manhood
should not affect young men in similar ways. One researcher points out that
these images of beautiful men are having an effect on the growing number of
young males who are beginning to suffer from complaints previously seen as
exclusively female, such as feelings of insecurity and preoccupation with their
body image. While recent muscle dysmorphia research has been conducted on
both genders, most eating disorder research has been targeted at women because
women far outnumber men in contracting these diseases. Past research points to
differing sociocultural environments from birth between genders in regard to
reinforcements for dieting and weight loss; men and women perceive fatness and
ideals of shape differently. However, recent research is finding an
increase in eating disorders and body image distortion in men at a time when
they are being more objectified in the mass media.
Dr. Harrison Pope, the leading expert in muscle dysmorphia research,
believes that sociocultural factors may be an important reason why more cases of
this disorder are being diagnosed. He points to muscularity recently becoming
important in magazines and films, as well as an increase in fitness activities
in the American public, adding that this disorder may be a rare psychiatric
condition that has "become more prominent as a result of changing cultural
trends." Pope adds that muscle dysmorphia "will become the body image
disorder of the 1990s just as eating disorders leapt into the public awareness
in the 1980s. Another researcher claims that images of the ideal man do not
look like they used to; the John Wayne type, a "_sweaty, wind-bitten hero with a
bit of a beer belly, rumpled clothing, and an air of absolute indifference to
his appearance," is being replaced with the Marky Marks of the world, beefcake
boys -- smooth-skinned, clean-shaven, with tight, muscular bodies. There
are countless ads showcasing rippling chests and shoulders, more shirtless
actors in movies, and more male models on fashion runways flaunting washboard
stomachs. And while the new look is clearly masculine, it is also
"paradoxically feminine," with skin as smooth and clear as a woman's complexion.
Other authors agree, commenting again on Marky Mark, the one-time rapper
who modeled underwear for Calvin Klein in the early 1990s. His look is " the
lean and hungry cut look_with bulging biceps, chiseled chest and a washboard
stomach." One author stated that it is the look teenage boys want and are
willing to turn to steroids to get. A recent article in Elle called this
phenomenon "reverse anorexia" and also blamed the way men are being portrayed in
the media for the increase in body image distortion and distress in males. Dr.
Murray Drummond, a health professor at the University of South Australia, said
that while women more commonly develop eating disorders in attempts to lose
weight, men develop compulsive exercise disorders in attempts to become more
muscular. He added that, "like the ideal female body image portrayed in women's
magazines, the ideal male body portrayed was out of reach for many men because
the men pictured were genetically gifted." If these two phenomena are
related, men now may be experiencing what women have experienced for decades.
Men no longer are being judged only on what they do; they also are finding
themselves being judged largely on their appearance. Men are being displayed as
passive objects in advertisements, and this is changing the way the world looks
at the male body. Dr. Precilla Choi, a senior professor of psychology at
Keele University and a member of Pope's team who diagnosed the condition of
muscle dysmorphia, also echoed the realization that men are increasingly being
judged by their appearance. Men are more concerned with their bodies than they
used to be and as a result are going to the gym more often. The danger in that
is that muscle dysmorphia develops from regular workouts even though it is not
clear why some men develop the disorder while others do not.
So far, very little quantifiable data exists about men and cultural
standards of attractiveness. One recent study examined the extent to which
American society's emphasis on fitness has changed; and how the number of media
messages men received to exercise, change their shape and be slim increased from
1960 to 1992. The researchers determined that while the population in the
area they studied had grown a little over two times its 1960 size, the number of
health and fitness centers had experienced a 50-fold increase. The researchers
also found that over the past three decades, males have been exposed to
increasing numbers of articles and advertisements aimed at how to improve their
shape, how to strengthen and tone their muscles and how to modify their exercise
habits. When measuring the ideal body shape, they found that the average
shoulder-to-waist and shoulder-to-chest ratios had not changed substantially in
the past three decades, indicating a V-shaped ideal. However, though their
findings suggest that the male body-ideal has remained constant, they pointed
out that their study did not include a measure for muscular definition. The
authors suggested future research to determine if the cultural ideal of
attractiveness for males is more firm and muscular than in past years.
According to Jim Keogh, an entertainment reporter, one needs only to look at
Sylvester Stallone's body as portrayed in the "Rocky" movies over the years to
see the change in the muscular definition of men in the mass media over the past
few decades. In the first two "Rocky" movies, Stallone is "beefy but undefined.
By the third "Rocky," he looked flayed, as though he had literally peeled away
layers of skin to reveal the sinew underneath_" Although these researchers
and others in the past decade have started looking toward men and how they are
portrayed in the mass media, as well as how this portrayal may or may not affect
men, more research still is needed.
The Advertising/Entertainment Industries' Viewpoints
Advertisers are going after hot, young, virile bodies to sell their
products. What is different about that? The difference is that the bodies they
are going after are male. Kathleen Boyes, writing for The Chicago Tribune's
style magazine in 1992, stated that men are looking at themselves differently,
wanting to look younger and having more plastic surgery. One plastic surgeon in
Ohio said that men now make up 30 percent of his patients, while in 1980 only 1
percent of his patients were men. This surgeon added that men are where women
were 10 years ago when it comes to getting plastic surgery and that society has
put significant emphasis on appearance, dieting, and exercise for men and
women. Boyes added that the "standards for male beauty are pretty stringent:
a well-defined chest, a washboard stomach, a strong jaw, alongside an
undefinable something extra." The changes occurring toward the end of the
1980s had one common theme: men were portrayed more than ever as sex objects.
The trend appears to be continuing in the 1990s, with men dieting and
lifting weights more and wearing sexier clothes. Mike Sell, an executive
for "Total Media," an advertising agency that focuses on the youth market,
stated that the emphasis of men's magazines 10 years ago was to stress fashion,
but now these magazines focus on a new area of male preoccupation - - their
body image. Like women's magazines always have, men's magazines now are
filled with articles that "concentrate on their readers' worries and
The image of men as sex objects or men as beautiful is now more accepted,
according to Holly Brubach, style editor for New York Times Magazine. The male
body is being used to sell to both men and women. She adds that "male
mannequins now sport genital bulges and larger chests" and for the first time in
window-dressing history are appearing as frequently as female mannequins."
As men are being used more and more in advertising, it is apparent that there is
a single standard of beauty for men today: "hypermasculine, muscled, powerfully
shaped body - the Soloflex man, and the question is whether this standard will
punish men as much as the super thin standard has punished women." When
asked what the current trend for models was, one modeling agency assistant
stated that there is a thin trend for men today; however, she added that the
ideal image was "thin, but in shape, of course." Also, on the runway, she said,
you still see the well-developed abdominal muscles and the typical highly
muscular model. Phil Hilton, executive editor of Men's Health, said that
"men of the 1990s can not expect to get out of shape and still be attractive to
women_men can no longer be complacent."
Media as Possible Causes/Contributors to Self-esteem, Body Image Distortion and
According to one eating disorder expert, Steven Romano, men do feel
inadequate and uncomfortable about their own bodies while looking at unrealistic
and rigid examples of this new, single standard of beauty. This same expert
quoted in another article pointed to the dark side of this cultural emphasis on
a specific male type - the growing number of men suffering from body image
disorders. He has more and more male patients who have body image disturbances
and who are compulsive exercisers and/or steroid abusers -- symptoms of reverse
anorexia or muscle dysmorphia. Romano says these men are very similar to female
anorexics. When the female anorexic looks in the mirror, she sees herself as
too fat, and when these males, who are well muscled, look in the mirror, they
see themselves as too thin because they are comparing themselves to the ideal
projected in the media. Romano recalls one 19-year-old patient who said he had
to look like Marky Mark and would only eat a diet that would allow him to build
muscle. One high school student confirmed that "in part, their body-image
obsession is a response to the depiction of men as sex objects in the mainstream
One research firm reported that in the past six years alone, the number
of men exercising has increased by 30 percent. Although this increase in
exercise is not necessarily a bad thing, more men are showing up with body image
disorders and are abusing steroids in attempt to build muscle. Pope says
that while there is nothing inherently wrong with bodybuilding, some people are
finding an outlet in it in response to "the fitness boom and preoccupation with
appearances." One study with college men at the focus found that the
"skinnier" or "fatter" the males perceived themselves to be compared to the
mesomorphic ideal, the more negatively they tended to feel about their body
parts. Also, the more their self-perception of their bodies deviated more from
the muscular ideal, the more their self-concept suffered. A recent Men's
Health survey sent to readers in the England showed that 75 percent of the men
were dissatisfied with the shape of their bodies, while only four percent
regarded themselves as "very attractive." While the effects are less
documented in men than in women, negative feelings about one's body can carry
over into other areas of a man's life. For example, the majority of people with
positive feelings about their appearance, fitness, or health reported positive
self-concepts, satisfaction with their life, and an absence of loneliness and
depression. Those with negative feelings about their appearance, fitness and
health experienced the opposite. According to surveys conducted in 1972 and
again in 1992, both men and women indicated growing dissatisfaction in their
height, weight, muscle tone, face, torso and their overall appearance.
Another researcher found that 95 percent of the college men who were surveyed
expressed dissatisfaction with some aspect of their bodies, with men
consistently expressing their greatest dissatisfaction with their chest, weight,
A more recent study reflected this trend, with college men describing the
ideal body as one that is lean, yet muscular. The responses in this study
differed from past research in that the men thought they were heavier than their
ideal, reflecting a "new emphasis on lean muscularity among college men."
Male body builders were found to have a high drive for bulk combined with a high
drive for thinness, reflecting current trends that the bulk must be in the form
of lean muscle mass. In pursuit of leanness, men appear to be at risk for
developing eating disorder practices including binging, purging and restricting
food. Recent research on men indicates that those with eating disorders
appear more similar to women with eating disorders than to other men, with the
exception that the men with eating disorders were significantly less likely than
the women to seek treatment. Research on muscle dysmorphia shows that those
afflicted behave similarly to people with eating disorders, and many also have a
past history of anorexia. Individuals with this disorder become extremely upset
if they miss a day of lifting weights in their usual pattern. They also adhere
to a high protein, low-fat diet, counting calories each day. If they deviate
from their diet, most become so agitated that they must compensate immediately,
with an extra workout, for example.
According to social comparison theory, people have a need to evaluate
themselves and will do so socially if there is not an objective, physical way to
evaluate themselves. In an upward comparison, a person can experience damage to
his or her self-concept when a discrepancy occurs between the individual and the
image to which he or she is compared.
Many researchers believe that a difficult-to-attain V-shaped male ideal has
emerged in the mass media. Some point to the increasing reports of men with
eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia, body dissatisfaction, and lower self-esteem
and compare this to what women have been facing for decades. More research is
needed to document these trends and to further link them to the psychological
disorders that have become epidemic in women.
If men now are being bombarded increasingly with messages and images
concerning their physical attractiveness, then researchers could expect physical
attractiveness to become more important to men. As it becomes more important,
men may try to reduce the discrepancy between their bodies and the ideal body in
the media through behavior, as social comparison theory suggests. As this
occurs, researchers could see more eating and body dysmorphic disorders,
body-image distortion, anabolic steroid abuse and lower self-esteem as men try
to bridge the gap between their bodies and the difficult-to-attain cultural
The review of the literature allows one to assume that the male cultural
standard of attractiveness is mesomorphic, or V-shaped. The research was
designed to answer the following questions:
First, has this ideal become more muscularly defined over the past 30
H1= The ideal has become more muscularly defined.
H10= The ideal has not become more muscularly defined.
Second, have males been exposed to an increasing number of V-shaped images
over the past 30 years?
H2= Men have been exposed to an increasing number of V-shaped images.
H20= Men have not been exposed to an increasing number of V-shaped images.
Third, have males been exposed to an increasing number of all masculine
images over the past 30 years?
H3= Men have been exposed to an increasing number of all masculine images.
H30= Men have not been exposed to an increasing number of all masculine
The researcher conducted a content analysis of three popular men's
magazines. Magazines were chosen over other forms of media for their ease of
measurement and availability for the time period from 1967 to 1997. The time
period was chosen because it corresponded with Petrie's previous study and
because 1967 was the first year Rolling Stone was published. Because past
studies analyzing women's images in the media have shown that the female images
seen in magazines, television, and movies all displayed a slimming trend, it
is reasonable to assume that if there is a male image trend in one medium, this
trend would show up in all forms of media. Therefore, while a larger percentage
of boys/men are potentially exposed to images on television programs such as
ESPN or MTV, movies or outdoor advertising,  the magazine images probably
would be similar to what men would see in those other channels.
The magazines analyzed were Sports Illustrated, chosen because it is a
popular magazine with a target audience of young men interested in sports as
well as fashion and physical fitness; Rolling Stone, chosen because it is a
magazine directed at young adults who have an interest in popular culture, and
GQ, chosen because it is directed at young men interested in their appearance.
All three magazines chosen a circulation of 600,000 or more and have the type of
images that could be measured easily. Young men have a higher exposure to
all three magazines, and teen males have a higher exposure to two of the
three magazines (Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated), compared to other
publications. The time period chosen allowed the researcher to document any
changes that have occurred in a cultural ideal of attractiveness for men over
the past 30 years. Magazines were located at the University of Florida, Florida
State University, and public libraries in the Gainesville, Fla., area. Both
hard copy and microfilm copies were used for analysis. The 30-year period was
broken down into three-year intervals, starting in 1967 (1967, 1970, etc.).
This was done so the researcher was able to manage three decades of information
in a timely fashion. Four issues per year from each of the three magazines were
analyzed, for a total of 132 issues over the 30-year period. A random numbers
table was used to choose the magazine issues to analyze. When more than one
issue of a magazine was published in a single month, the issue for the first
complete week in that month was used. If an issue was not available, the next
chronological issue was used. In three of these 11 instances, the next
chronological issue available fell in the following year. This happened for the
following issues of Rolling Stone: January 1967, February 1967, and June 1985
(January and February of 1968 and June of 1986 were substituted).
Coding and Data Analysis
The total number of pages was counted by looking at the last numbered page
in the magazine, and adding 4 or more pages for the covers, plus any additional
"cover flaps." Then the researcher manually counted all the pages in the
magazine and added any additional pages inside that were not included in the
total page count, such as some advertisements or special sections, with the
exception of inserts. Inserts were defined as being intended for the reader to
remove from the magazine (i.e. music offers). Missing pages were subtracted
from the total number of pages (i.e. front cover ripped off).
Next, pages containing masculine images were counted whether the images
were codable or not, to reveal whether men were being more objectified in the
media over the 30-year period studied. Pages were counted as containing a
masculine image if there was at least part of a male torso (the human body
excluding the head and limbs) -- back, front, or side view -- on the page,
except for pictures of pictures, cartoons or art work, and images that were
smaller than 2 inches wide or 2 inches in length. If an image was a head shot
and some of the chest or shoulders was visible, then it was counted as a
masculine image. If only the head and lower neck were visible or if the image
was a leg shot and no torso above the waist was visible, then it was not counted
as a masculine image.
Finally, the researcher analyzed images of men to judge the cultural
standard of attractiveness found in the mass media. Previous research has shown
that the cultural standard of attractiveness for males is a V-shaped body (broad
shoulders and chest tapering to a narrow waist); however, muscular
definition has not been analyzed. Images were judged on muscular definition and
level of body fat by a comparison to an eight-image male scale that reflected
the following body image descriptions:
y Low Body Fat/Not Muscular
y Low Body Fat/Somewhat Muscular
y Low Body Fat/Very Muscular
y Medium Body Fat/Not Muscular
y Medium Body Fat/Somewhat Muscular
y Medium Body Fat/Very Muscular
y High Body Fat/Not Muscular
y High Body Fat/Somewhat Muscular
A ninth category, High Body Fat/Very Muscular, was considered but rejected
because, in researching various magazines and the Internet, no images could be
found to represent this category.
To develop the male scale, the researcher selected 38 male images of
varying body types, with at least their entire torso and arms exposed, from the
Internet and a local modeling agency. These images were cropped above the chin
and below the waist. These images were placed on separate pieces of paper and
randomly shuffled. All 38 images then were judged by three undergraduate
students using the above eight categories. First, the students individually
placed the pictures in one of the eight categories, which resulted in the
students placing all the same images in six of the eight categories. In the
other two categories, medium body fat/not muscular and medium body fat/very
muscular, two of the three students agreed on category placement. Next, in
categories in which complete agreement was reached on more than one image, each
student was asked to select the best image to represent the category. Students
agreed on the best image to represent each category in all but one of the
categories (low body fat/somewhat muscular); again, two of the three students
When evaluating overall muscular definition, masculine images were
accepted for coding if models were shirtless or had on form-fitting clothing
that still allowed for analysis of muscular definition and level of body fat.
Images were accepted for coding even if the whole torso was not in view, as long
as some degree of muscular definition could be established (i.e. biceps or
pectoral and abdominal muscles were necessary to establish muscular definition,
and a visible waist or abdominal muscles were necessary to code level of body
fat). The researcher found 409 images acceptable for coding. The frequency of
each type of image was tallied to reveal what types of images magazines have
Twenty percent of the magazine issues were randomly selected for
double-coding to ensure reliability. Data were recorded using predesigned
sheets. In the process of training the independent coder, the researcher
refined the list of rules for the coding process. Holsti's coefficient of
reliability equation was used to calculate the agreement between the researcher
and the independent coder. The equation C.R. = 2 M/ N1 + N2 was used, where M
equaled the number of coding agreements between the coder and N1 and N2 equaled
the number of coding decisions made by each coder. The pretest was broken up
into three parts because the actual coding took place on different days, several
weeks apart, and this procedure was used to trouble-shoot any agreement problems
due to the differences in magazine formats. Three pretests were conducted; one
for each of the three different magazines analyzed. Each pretest was conducted
before double coding of that magazine would begin. For example, before coding
GQ, a pretest on a GQ issue was conducted. The three pretests revealed the
following agreement between the researcher and independent coder:
y Number of Total Pages = 100%
y Number of Pages with masculine images = 97%
y Number of Codable Images = 80%
y Category Assignment using male scale = 44%
Because the agreement was above, but near the minimum acceptability for the
number of codable images (80 percent), the researcher clarified the rules with
the independent coder by discussing codable images that had not been agreed upon
by both coders during the pretest.
After each pretest, disagreements concerning the male scale were discussed.
While the total male scale agreement for the three pretests was 44 percent, more
agreement was evident when splitting the scale into its two components - -
muscular definition and level of body fat. The researcher and independent coder
agreed 67 percent of the time on muscular definition and 56 percent of the time
on level of body fat. Disagreement on muscular definition was between the
somewhat muscular and very muscular categories 100 percent of the time. And
disagreement on level of body fat was between the low body fat and medium body
fat categories 100 percent of the time. Using other magazines, the researcher
and independent coder analyzed images of male bodies and discussed how and why
each would code the images a certain way. Also, the rules were reiterated as a
focal point to refer to when future uncertainty emerged.
Following each pretest, the researcher and independent coder each individually
coded nine randomly pre-selected issues from each magazine -- 27 in all --
initially yielding the following levels of agreement:
y Number of Total Pages = 100%
y Number of Pages with masculine images = 94%
y Number of Codable Images = 95%
y Category Assignment using male scale = 60%
Following a second detailed review of disagreement between the researcher and
the independent coder, 89 percent agreement was reached for the male scale. The
researcher accounts for such a large increase in agreement to the following:
1. Due to the small number of codable images (38 in all of the issues
double-coded) a small difference in agreement resulted in a huge
percentage change. For example, the nine double-coded Rolling Stone
issues resulted only in four images acceptable for coding; therefore, a
change in agreement on just one image would have caused a change in
agreement of 25 percent.
2. Most disagreement was only on half of the scale; for example, the
independent coder and researcher would agree on muscular definition but
not level of body fat or vice versa. Further discussion resulted in more
accurate coding of images because, before either person changed his or
analysis of the image, each person would discuss why he or she selected
initial category. Any changes were made only after each person could
evaluate the image in the same way -- if agreement could not be reached,
then the initial category assignments remained.
3. After the last pretest, the researcher added the rule "when in
doubt, round up." In other words, if in doubt of whether an image had no
body fat or medium body fat, the coders chose medium. While this
in the last set of coding having the highest agreement on the male scale
(75 percent) it is difficult to say whether this made much of a
because the last nine magazine issues coded only contained four codable
4. Due to fatigue, at times it was easy to forget rule #5/Part III -
picking the closest representation on the scale. For example, if an image
had large biceps, and/or large pectorals AND bumpy or defined abdominal
muscles, it would fall into the "very muscular" category. Then the
researchers examined the abdominal area. If the area was soft or
protruding, the image was coded as in the medium fat/very muscular
category. Or if the area was flat or concave, it was coded in the low
fat/very muscular category. When discussion ensued after the initial
coding, re-examining this rule aided each coder in deciding on the best
category assignment for the image based on the rules drafted by the
Because the second look at the disagreement resulted in more accurate coding of
the images according to the rules, when the researcher and the independent coder
reached agreement, the researcher used the new coding decisions for her data
analysis. In most instances, the double coding took place before any individual
coding by the researcher. Any clarification of the rules obtained during the
second detailed look at disagreement resulted in more accurate coding decisions
by the researcher in the remaining issues (80 percent).
Even though the initial agreement on the male scale appeared low at 60
percent, more reliability of the measurement was found when breaking the coding
decisions into a split scale: how many times the researcher and independent
coder agreed on muscular definition and how many times agreement was reached on
level of body fat. Splitting the male scale agreement into its two components
revealed 83 percent agreement for muscular definition and 73 percent for level
of body fat. Therefore, the researcher is more confident in her analysis
regarding muscularity than body-fat levels. Fifty-five percent of the
disagreement on muscular definition was between the not muscular and somewhat
muscular categories; 45 percent was between the somewhat muscular and very
muscular categories. And 93 percent of the disagreement on level of body fat
was between the low body fat and medium body fat categories; 7 percent was
between the medium body fat to high body fat categories. Finally, it is
important to note that the researcher and independent coder only completely
disagreed six percent of the time.
Of the 132 magazines analyzed, the average number of pages was 135. There
was an increase in the number of magazine pages over the 30-year period,
beginning with an average of 93 pages in the 1960s to 154 in the 1990s. The
following average total page numbers were found for each magazine: GQ issues
had an average of 221 pages, Sports Illustrated an average of 104 pages, and
Rolling Stone an average of 82 pages. Of the 409 codable images analyzed, 71
percent were found in GQ, 16 percent in Sports Illustrated, and 13 percent in
The data were analyzed by individual decades - the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and
1990s, except in discussion about the male scale's eight categories, in which
the 1960s were included with the 1970s because there were so few codable images
during that time period. Because of the time period used (1967-1997) and the
coding procedures (every three years), only one year of magazines was coded from
the 1960s, while the 1970s had four years, the 1980s had three years and the
1990s had three years coded.
Test of Hypotheses
The data supported the first hypothesis that over the past 30 years, the
male ideal body shape or image in the media has become more muscularly defined.
In 1967, the "not muscular" category accounted for the largest percentage of
images, 55 percent, compared to 46 percent of images that were either "somewhat
muscular" or "very muscular." By the 1990s, the "not muscular" category
accounted for only 17 percent of the images, while the "somewhat muscular" or
"very muscular" categories accounted for 83 percent. And while the percentage
of images in the muscular categories appear to have decreased slightly from the
1980s to the 1990s, when the categories were split into the three possible
choices of muscularity -- "not muscular," "somewhat muscular," and "very
muscular" -- more trends emerged. The largest category in the 1960s was "not
muscular," followed by "somewhat muscular;" "very muscular" was not represented
at all. However, the "not muscular" category decreased almost every decade, and
the "somewhat muscular" category remained the largest during the 1970s, 1980s,
and 1990s. The "very muscular" category, which was not found at all in the
1960s, consistently increased from the 1960s to the 1990s, rising 35 percent
over the past 30 years [Chi-square (df 6)=49.97, p<.000], (See Table 4-1).
Chi-square=49.97 df=6 p<.000
Because muscular definition usually increases as level of body fat
decreases, the researcher also analyzed level of body fat as a separate
category. In 1967, 55 percent of the codable images were categorized as showing
medium body fat, 27 percent were in the low body fat categories, and 18 percent
were high body fat images. In the 1990s, medium and high body fat levels fell,
and the low body fat category rose to 62 percent, more than twice its original
size in 1967 [Chi-square (df 6)=24.26, p<.000], (See Table 4-2).
Low body fat
Medium body fat
High body fat
Chi-square=24.26 df=6 p<.000
The second hypothesis, that men have been exposed to an increasing number
of V-shaped images -- a broad chest tapering to a narrowing waist, over the
past 30 years, also was supported by this research. The researcher's male scale
included four categories containing an image with a broad chest tapering to
narrowing waist - - low body fat/somewhat muscular, low body fat/very muscular,
medium body fat/somewhat muscular, and medium body fat/very muscular. Results
show a steady increase in the number of V-shaped images, with the exception of a
five percent drop in the 1990s. Even with that slight decline, the V-shaped
image was still the most commonly seen in these magazines [Chi-square (df
3)=28.23, p<.000], (See Table 4-3).
Chi-square=28.23 df=3 p<.000
In the 1960s and 1970s, 26 percent of the images were categorized in the
low body fat/somewhat muscular category, 23 percent were categorized medium body
fat/not muscular category, and 22 percent were in the medium body fat/somewhat
muscular category. However, 41 percent of the images were coded as not
muscular, with varying levels of body fat. In the 1980s, the percentage of
images coded as not muscular dropped to 12 percent. A thin yet muscular trend
emerged; 44 percent of the images were coded as low body fat/somewhat muscular
and 21 percent as low body fat/very muscular. The trend continued into the
1990s, when nearly 60 percent of images fell into the same two categories as in
the previous decade: low body fat/somewhat muscular dropped to 29 percent, but
the low body fat/very muscular category grew to 28 percent of the images. And
although low body fat/somewhat muscular was the largest category in the 1990s,
it exceeded the low body fat/very muscular category by only one percent. It
appears that the frequency of low body fat/somewhat muscular images declined
while the percentage of low body fat/very muscular images continued to increase.
Occurrences of each category are broken down by decade in Table 4-4, [Chi-square
(df 14)=66.67, p<.000]. Table 4-4
Low body fat/not muscular
Low body fat/somewhat muscular
Low body fat/very muscular
Medium body fat/not muscular
Medium body fat/somewhat muscular
Medium body fat/very muscular
High body fat/not muscular
High body fat/somewhat muscular
Chi-square=66.67 df=14 p<.000
There was little evidence to support the third hypothesis -- that men have
been exposed to an increasing number of all masculine images - because overall
the number of pages containing masculine images increased only slightly over the
past 30 years. For 1967, 47 percent of the pages contained masculine images;
this increased to 50 percent for the 1990s (See Table 4-5). Since there was an
increase in number of pages, overall there were more masculine images.
Pages Containing Masculine Images
Post Hoc Analysis
The research revealed an image trend by magazine for muscular definition.
Eighty-four percent of the images in GQ were somewhat muscular or very muscular;
only 16 percent were categorized as not muscular. Sports Illustrated followed
with 77 percent of the images categorized as somewhat muscular or very muscular;
only 23 percent were not muscular. However, the images in Rolling Stone showed
a different trend. Fifty-seven percent of the images were not muscular compared
to 43 percent somewhat or very muscular [Chi-square= (df 4)=43.62, p<.000], (See
Chi-square=43.62 df=4 p<.000
The researcher also noted a trend by magazine for each category on the male
scale. Fifty-eight percent of the images found in GQ were either low body
fat/somewhat muscular or low body fat/very muscular. Fifty-three percent of the
images in Rolling Stone were categorized as not muscular/low or medium body fat,
and 52 percent of the images in Sports Illustrated were categorized as low body
fat/somewhat muscular or medium body fat/very muscular [Chi-square (df
14)=96.76, p<.000]. The large percentage of medium body fat/very muscular
images in Sports Illustrated may be due to the many pictures of boxers who tend
to be very muscular but not extremely lean. The stereotype of musicians being
non-athletic may explain why more than half the images in Rolling Stone were not
Finally, the research examined whether or not the number of codable (or
more revealing) images were increasing, even though there was only a slight
increase in the number of overall masculine images. Again, a small increase was
found (See Table 4-7). But while there is not a large percentage change in the
actual number of images, whether codable or not, what has changed is what those
images look like.
The findings support previous literature and research that have suggested
that masculine images in the mass media have changed. Researchers have claimed
that images of the ideal man do not look like they used to, and this research
confirmed their assumptions. In the 1960s, the majority of masculine images
fell into the "not muscular" categories, regardless of the level of body fat.
In the 1990s most of the masculine images fell into the "somewhat muscular" or
"very muscular" categories, and the majority were categorized as low body fat.
The ideal images portrayed in the media in the earlier decades of this study
were heavier and less muscularly defined men; however, time has shown a shift
toward a thin yet moderately to heavily muscled ideal. This research quantified
a trend that some researchers, advertisers, and modeling agencies have been
aware of since the mid-1980s.
Dr. Trent Petrie completed a content analysis of two men's magazines, GQ
and Esquire, and found that the ideal body type remained V-shaped -- a broad
chest tapering to a narrowing waist. This research confirmed that the most
prevalent masculine image in the mass media is a V-shaped image. Petrie
measured the shoulder-to-chest and shoulder-to-waist ratios to indicate whether
or not an image was V-shaped and found that the prevailing image was V-shaped
and had not substantially changed in the past three decades. This
researcher counted an image as V-shaped if it was categorized into one of the
four male scale categories that were identified as exemplifying a V-shaped body.
While the V-shaped image has nearly always accounted for the majority of mass
media images, as Petrie found, this researcher found that the percentages of
these images has increased over the past 30 years, with a slight decrease in the
1990s. Also, Petrie did not indicate whether he found an increase in these
images; this researcher did. This research supports the viewpoint that the
growing masculine image in the mass medium is a lean, highly muscular image; the
Marky Mark image that many researchers refer to would fall into this category.
Finally, many researchers, advertisers, and modeling agencies speculate
that, not only are the images of men changing, but also there is an increasing
number of these images in the media. This researcher did find a significant
change in what the masculine images looked like throughout the past 30 years and
agrees that a stringent standard for male beauty has arrived - - thinner but
more muscular. However, while the image has changed greatly, the actual
percentage of masculine images has risen only slightly.
Research Contributions for Mass Communications
While past researchers have indicated that the male body most portrayed in
the past decades had undergone a change, there was very little quantifiable data
to document this change. This analysis of men's magazines during the past 30
years quantifies what many have speculated - - that men in the media do not look
like they used to. There are countless studies of the way women are portrayed
in the media and of the effects of these images. While this study does not
suggest any effects concerning men and the media, it does clearly show the way
the male image has changed from 1967 to 1997.
Research Limitations and Opportunities for Future Research
More research was and still is needed as masculine images change into
ideals that may one day be as unattainable as those women have faced for
decades. This research quantified the changes masculine images have gone
through in the media and gives a starting point for future researchers to
continue studying how men are portrayed in the media and to study what effects,
if any, these changing images are having on men in their daily lives. Previous
research has suggested that one's body image is influenced by sociocultural
factors such as those found in the mass media. Dr. Harrison Pope, the leading
expert in recent research on muscle dysmorphia, points to the recent increase in
the importance of muscularity in American culture, magazines, and films as a
contributor to increased occurrences of body image disturbances in young
men. This research does support the argument that muscularity has become
more popular in at least one mass medium; however, it does not provide evidence
for a cause-and-effect relationship between the mass media and increases in
occurrences of body image disturbances in men.
A study could be conducted of males of different age groups and a
comparison could be made to determine whether or not men who have been exposed
to more difficult-to-attain images have experienced more body image distortion.
Or a longitudinal study could analyze males, their body image, and their media
consumption habits through their early teen years into adulthood and to
determine if there is a correlation between the media images and increase in
body image distortion or other body image problems. Also, future research
could study the effects on men of the ideal images in the media using social
comparison theory. Previous research has suggested that the male ideal body and
men's own bodies were relatively identical, thus allowing men to feel
comfortable with their bodies. However, in this content analysis, a changed
ideal male body in the mass media was discovered. This researcher suggests, as
others have, that the new ideal seen in the mass media does not represent the
body type most men have, just as female fashion models seen in the mass media do
not represent the way most American women look. Dr. Murray Drummond, a health
professor at the University of South Australia, states that these images in the
mass media represent genetically gifted people and therefore are unattainable
for most people. If the average man compares himself to these images, a
discrepancy may emerge between his own body image and the ideal. According to
social comparison theory, once a comparison is made, assuming that the person
wants to be similar to and ranks the other person as superior, then the
existence of the discrepancy will result in action on the part of the person
doing the comparing in order to reduce the discrepancy. While a person's
self-esteem may be lowered by the comparison, the behavior he engages in to
reduce the discrepancy could be dangerous. Behaviors such as excessive concern
with diet and weight loss, as well as excessive concern with attaining lean body
mass and using steroids, can be seen as a way to reduce this discrepancy and are
worth studying in connection to the new hyper-masculine yet thin ideal that has
emerged in the mass media over the past 30 years.
Finally, while this research clearly established a change in the ideal
body image portrayed in magazines, others may want to replicate the study after
refining this researcher's male scale. This male scale was developed
specifically for this study and because it has been used only once, more testing
could establish it as a valuable tool to use when analyzing media images. Only
60 percent agreement was reached when the male scale categories were taken as a
whole, even though overall the researcher and independent coder disagreed only
six percent of the time. When the scale was split into two parts, level of body
fat and muscular definition, the researcher and independent coder reached 83
percent agreement on muscular definition but only 73 percent agreement for the
level of body fat portion of the scale. It is obvious that agreeing on level of
body fat is more of a problem. Replication could determine whether the
disagreement is due to a flaw in the scale or flaws in the training and
directions the independent coder received. Once refined, the male scale could
be used as a way to judge perceptions of what is considered a healthy male body.
Also, although women's studies have indicated that images in one medium
are similar to those in other media, replication is needed in television and
movies to discover whether the trends found in this study will be found in those
other media as well.
The dominant culture in American society has embraced thinness as a
cultural standard of attractiveness for women, and researchers have suggested
that this can be damaging to women in a variety of ways. Women have had more
eating disorders and body image problems compared to men in direct ratio to the
number of slimming messages they receive in the media. Now the dominant culture
in American society also has embraced a new ideal for men. This new ideal --
low body fat, very muscular -- may be just as difficult for men to attain as the
thin ideal has been for women. Petrie has found that over the past three
decades, males have been exposed to an increased number of articles and
advertisements aimed at how to improve their shape, strengthen and tone their
muscles and how to change their exercise habits. Because men now are being
bombarded with increased messages concerning their physical attractiveness and
difficult-to-attain images, researchers could expect physical attractiveness to
become more important to men. Males then may try to reduce the discrepancy
between their bodies and the ideal seen in the media through certain behaviors.
While the importance of physical attractiveness for men may never reach the same
level it holds for women, some men still may put their health at risk as some
women do in order to attain the cultural ideal. If indeed there is a connection
between media images and messages and women's health risk behaviors, then we may
soon see or already may be seeing the effects mass media images may have on
young men. While there are many contributors to low self-esteem and to eating
and body dysmorphic disorders, the sociocultural impact of the mass media in the
latter half of this century cannot be ignored.
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