Masculinity in Advertising: Muscles and Strength


When it comes to the “ideal” masculine body, muscles are deemed “perfection”. Whilst us girls have longed moaned and blamed Barbie for thin ‘ideals’, her boyfriend Ken, is no sack of spuds! On a daily basis, boys are inundated with images of a beefy sort of masculinity. There are the guys of MTV reality show “Jersey Shore”, whose collective abs inspired their own line of workout DVDs not to mention countless successes in the bedroom! Than there’s Hollywood hunks like Channing Tatum, who was named by People magazine as the Sexiest Man Alive and even a song about how gorgeous he is was created which features endless mainstream celebs declaring their lust/love for him. And there’s Taylor Lautner, who reportedly felt so objectified by his shirtless scenes in the “Twilight Saga” he asked that his shirtless scenes to be limited in the final installment!

Muscles mean sexiness and men feel the pressure to get down the gym and pump some iron! Similarly to girls the repetition of hyper-masculine male celebrities and models influences male body image. A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that boys overwhelmingly reported feeling pressured to fit a certain physical ideal, which was “toned and muscular.” According to the Pediatrics study in America, 38% of middle and high school boys use protein supplements and 6% admit to having experimented with steroids. 40% of boys in middle and high school exercise regularly and 90% at least occasionally with the specific goal of bulking up. And so it’s quite clear that pressure to cultivate an “ideal” is not exclusive to females, but also increasingly important to males.  Hatty (2000), in fact, has described how male body ideals-broad shoulders, muscular chest and arms, and a narrow waist-lead to an achievement-oriented approach to masculinity. It takes work to build such a body, and the men who do so often view muscular development as a way to define themselves and prove their worth (Kimmel 1996). Thus, more muscles means more status and power.

Overall, accentuated muscles, V shape torsos, great height and strength are all deemed the epitome of masculinity in western cultures and are reinforced through masses of images in our day-to-day visual culture. Below are some images from popular male and female magazines of masculine “ideals”. Muscles, smiles, V shapes and strength are common trends. I wonder how many protein shakes and Photoshop it took?

Another part, which is deemed and accentuated as being the epitome of masculinity is a male’s penis. “Bigger means better” is a common motto in western cultures. In fact a whole style of erotic art has been based on it. Hypermasculine refers to a style of art where male character’s muscles and penis/testicles are portrayed as being unrealistically large and prominent. Gay artists who exploit hypermasculine types include Tom of Finland and Bill Ward. Some of their work can be seen below:


Smith, E (2009) Sociology of Sport and Social Theory. Human Kinetics.

Huffing Post (2013) Beauty and the Boy: The Impact of Negative Body Image on Our Boys [online] available from<>[24 February 2014]

Health Line (2013) Hypermasculinity in Advertising: Selling Manly Men to Regular Men [online] available from<; [24 February 2014]

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