japonisme: 7/15/12 - 7/22/12

20 July 2012

boys will be boys

whether one looks at fighters or lovers, men engaged in the dramatic arts or simply men engaged in just about anything, one can clearly see that the image a man must show to the public depends largely on where he's from. this is the idea explored by jeffrey yang, of harvard.*

though the image of "he-man," in the west, seems ubiquitous, "Our findings suggest that Western men have a distorted view of what they ideally should look like, whereas men in Taiwan don't seem to have this problem," says Harrison Pope Jr., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"Disorders of body image, including a pathological preoccupation with muscularity, are growing increasingly common among Western males, notes Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang, a Harvard senior. "By contrast, such male body-image problems appear to be rare in Asian societies."

A few years ago, [Pope] and several colleagues gave a computerized test to male college students in the United States, France, and Austria. The students could adjust images of male bodies through 10 layers of muscle and 10 levels of fat. Asked to build bodies they thought would attract women, the males consistently layered on a lot more muscle than females preferred when they looked at the images. The Leonardo DiCaprio types were judged more appealing than the Sylvester Stallones.

The tests revealed that Taiwanese men show less dissatisfaction with their bodies than Westerners. They did not add as much muscle to build an idealized body. And they added a scant five pounds to make a body they thought would be a woman's ideal.

To reach their ideal, more and more Western men are resorting to anabolic steroids. The Taiwanese men Yang talked with had heard of the drugs but did not know anyone who actually used them.

What accounts for the difference in body images and drug use between East and West? Yang, Pope, and Gray propose a combination of three possible answers in their report, which appears in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Chinese culture places less emphasis on muscle as a measure of masculinity. Also, Asian men are less exposed to the unending images of pecs, abs, biceps, and triceps common in Western media. Finally, Taiwanese men retain a tighter grip on the traditional roles of household and corporate masters than men in the United States and other Western countries.

Western societies have equated muscles with masculinity from Greek and Roman statuary to modern television and print ads. There has been no such emphasis in Asia.

Although a macho tradition exists in China, Yang notes, "a cerebral male tradition is dominant. In this tradition, masculinity is composed both of wen, having core meanings centering around literacy and cultural attainment, and wu, having core meanings of martial, military, force, and power. Wen is more highly regarded."

Yang, Gray, and Pope also call attention to other research showing that Asian cultures are being invaded by Western patterns of body dissatisfaction among women.

Two studies have shown that normal-weight women in Hong Kong and Polynesia want to be thinner. Another investigation in Fiji found striking increases in body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls in Fiji after television became widely available.

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