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How advertising affects male self image

When it comes to fitness and body-type, some advertising has had a negative impact on male self-image.

As an example, let's look at an ad that ran in the back of almost every comic book I read while growing up. Given it was in comic books for decades, it was targeting teen-aged or younger boys.

It focused on what you needed to look and act like to be "a man." Looking like "the world's most perfectly developed man" was the goal.

This was the message I was bombarded with on a daily basis – the Internet did not exist, video games were 'arcade' at best, and television had 2 channels (I lived in Saskatchewan); so comics were a major portion of entertainment for boys. And, unlike some of today's negative self-image ads, this one did not imply that one thing was better, it flat-out said it was.

In the first line the scenario is presented – the "skinny" boy has sand kicked in his face by the "real man" who eventually grabs him by the arm and threatens him saying "Listen here. I'd smash your face – only you're so skinny, you might dry up and blow away." (This scenario was even referred to on comedy sketches of the time.) The girl he is with then insults him saying "Don't let it bother you little boy."

So bullying is acceptable, being of slighter build is bad, bigger is better, women want the larger bullying type, etc.

In the secondline the boy decides to make body changes – and do it miraculously in a short time, as he seemingly returns to the same beach in the same summer? The boy sends away for the book that will make him into "a new man."

So misleading advertising for fitness results begins, and the 'more muscular is better' and 'being muscular is manly' messages are continued.

In the third line, the boy returns to the beach and punches the bully. The girl now says, "Oh Mac! You are a real man after all." The boy is also called "the hero of the beach" and is admired for his build.

So fighting is OK, being admired for your body is OK, a male being more muscular is better, women wanting men for the body type is good, etc.

The print details in the bottom corner reveal further details of the messaging – "a scrawny runt" can become "the world's most perfectly developed man."

The message, presented through this almost unescapable advertising campaign for its time, shaped many male minds growing up in the 70s – including mine.

Negative self-image and 'unobtainable results' advertising has targeted a generation of North American boys – it just hasn't been as well publicised.

The next step is to look into the questions: "Has this changed for men?" Are things better, worse, or just not discussed? Stay tuned…