This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Reality Television and the Muscular Ideal




Dallesasse, Starla

Type of Degree



Counseling Psychology


Body image dissatisfaction, a common experience among women in the United States, has also become increasingly common among men (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2001). Whereas women generally strive to achieve the thin-ideal, men tend to prefer a body shape that is more muscular than their own (Olivardia, Pope, Borowiecki, & Cohane, 2004). Sociocultural theory posits that the media play a critical role in the development of body image dissatisfaction among both men and women in the U.S. (Levine & Harrison, 2004). Although a great deal of research has focused on the media’s effects on women’s body image dissatisfaction, there has been little investigation related to men. More specifically, although research has begun to examine the negative effects of viewing reality television on women’s body image dissatisfaction, this research has not yet been extended to men. Before such investigations can take place, however, researchers must first explore the extent to which men embodying the muscular-ideal are depicted on reality television programming. Therefore, this dissertation used a quantitative content analysis to examine the contents (images of primary male cast members) of reality television programming. Results revealed that primary male cast members portrayed on reality television programming premiering during the fall 2009 broadcast season were more muscular and exhibited lower levels of body fat than “average” U.S. men. Additionally, the present study explored the extent to which there were differences in the levels of muscularity and body fat seen as a function of focus of the reality television program (i.e., reality drama, endurance contest, or romance/dating). Results revealed that there were no significant differences between levels of muscularity or body fat across program types.