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Yang, C. F. J., Gray, P., & Pope, H. G., Jr. (2005). Male body image in Taiwan versus the West: Yangghang Zhiqi meets the Adonis Complex. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 263–269.

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Male Body Image in Taiwan Versus the West

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Body image disorders and anabolic steroid use appear to be much less prevalent among Asian men than among men in the United States or other Western societies. Based on this observation, we hypothesized that Chinese men in Taiwan would display less body dissatisfaction than Western men and that Taiwanese media advertising would place less “value” on the male body than Western media advertising. These two studies offer tentative support for these predictions. In study I, Taiwanese men estimated only a 5-lb difference between the muscularity of an aver- age man and the male body that women prefer. By contrast, European and American men estimated this same difference to be about 20 lb. In study II, Taiwanese magazine advertisements portrayed nearly half of Western men and women in a state of undress, but Asian men were shown undressed in only 5% of cases. This observation suggests that, at least in the judgment of advertisers, body appearance (at least in terms of muscularity) is not a prime criterion for defining a Chinese man as masculine, admirable, or desirable, whereas the body has greater importance in defining an American man in these ways.


OBJECTIVE: Body image disorders appear to be more prevalent in Western than non-Western men. Previous studies by the authors have shown that young Western men display unrealistic body ideals and that Western advertising seems to place an increasing value on the male body. The authors hypothesized that Taiwanese men would exhibit less dissatisfaction with their bodies than Western men and that Taiwanese advertising would place less value on the male body than Western media. METHOD: The authors administered a computerized test of body image to 55 heterosexual men in Taiwan and compared the results to those previously obtained in an identical study in the United States and Europe. Second, they counted the number of undressed male and female models in American versus Taiwanese women’s magazine advertisements. RESULTS: In the body image study, the Taiwanese men exhibited significantly less body dissatisfaction than their Western counterparts. In the magazine study, American magazine advertisements portrayed undressed Western men frequently, but Taiwanese magazines portrayed undressed Asian men rarely. CONCLUSIONS: Taiwan appears less preoccupied with male body image than Western societies. This difference may reflect 1) Western traditions emphasizing muscularity and fitness as a measure of masculinity, 2) increasing exposure of Western men to muscular male bodies in media images, and 3) greater decline in traditional male roles in the West, leading to greater emphasis on the body as a measure of masculinity. These factors may explain why body dysmorphic disorder and anabolic steroid abuse are more serious problems in the West than in Taiwan.

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