Links between psychosocial variables and body dissatisfaction in homosexual men: differential relations with the drive for muscularity and the drive for thinness.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Gay men (Social aspects)
Gay men (Psychological aspects)
Gay men (Surveys)
Body image (Surveys)
Satisfaction (Surveys)
Social participation (Research)
Authors: Hunt, Christopher John
Gonsalkorale, Karen
Nosek, Brian A.
Pub Date: 06/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Journal of Men's Health Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1532-6306
Issue: Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 11 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 305192590
Full Text: Homosexuality has been found to be a risk factor for body dissatisfaction in men. An online sample of 64 homosexual men was used to examine the relationship between psychosocial variables hypothesised to play a role in this link (connection to gay community, rejection sensitivity, self-esteem, stigma consciousness, and internalised homophobia) and two aspects of body dissatisfaction (drive for thinness and drive for muscularity). Results from multiple linear regression analyses suggest that drive for thinness and drive for muscularioty have distinct profiles, with drive for thinness correlated with low self-esteem, and drive for muscularity correlated with increased involvement with the gay community. Future research should continue to examine drive for thinness and drive for muscularity as distinct aspects of body dissatisfaction.

Keywords: homosexual men, body dissatisfaction, muscularity, thinness, community involvement


Whilst research has traditionally focused on the pressures faced by women, men also possess body image concerns. Gay men may be particularly vulnerable to negative effects of poor body image, with homosexual men reporting higher levels of body dissatisfaction (Kaminski, Chapman, Haynes, & Own, 2005; Morrison, Morrison, & Sager, 2004; Siever, 1994; Strong, Williamson, Netemeyer, & Geer, 2000; Williamson & Hartley, 1998) and experiencing higher rates of eating disorders (Williamson, 1999) than heterosexual men. Because higher rates of body dissatisfaction mediates the link between sexual orientation and disordered eating behaviour (Hospers & Jansen, 2005), understanding the factors related to homosexual men's higher rates of body dissatisfaction could prove useful in treating and preventing the psychological consequences of body dissatisfaction.

Two theoretical perspectives may illuminate why rates of body dissatisfaction are higher among gay men. Meyer's (1995) minority stress model of mental health identifies society's negative attitudes towards homosexuality as a source of the increased risk of mental health issues among gay men. Specifically, it posits that an expectation of being stigmatised by others, the experience of discrimination and violence, and "internalised homophobia"--the degree to which the homonegativity of wider society has been internalised--result in a stressful social environment for homosexual men. This stressful environment in turn produces negative mental health outcomes, including substance use disorders, affective disorders, and suicide (Meyer, 1995, 2003). This model may explain homosexual men's heightened risk for body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Consistent with this model, correlational research has found positive associations between body dissatisfaction, internalised homophobia and expectation of stigma in gay men (Kimmel & Mahalik, 2005). These researchers hypothesised that experiencing prejudice and shame leads gay men to desire a more powerful physique as a sign of masculinity or as a way of feeling more powerful against anti-gay attack (Kimmel & Mahalik, 2005). However, it is also possible that minority stress variables are related to feelings of low self-worth, which in turn are related to body image dissatisfaction. This possibility will be examined in the current study.

A second theoretical perspective for explaining homosexual men's heightened risk for body image disturbance focuses instead on pressures emanating from within the gay community. These models start with the premise that the gay community places greater emphasis on men's physical attractiveness than is found in the general public (LeBeau & Jellison, 2009; Siever, 1994: Williamson, 1999). Taking ideas from objectification theory, which has been successfully used to examine body dissatisfaction in women (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997), this emphasis on physical attractiveness is thought to lead to greater self-objectification amongst homosexual men, and higher levels of body dissatisfaction and eating disturbance when they fail to obtain an idealised standard of beauty (Martins, Tiggemann, & Kirkbride, 2007; Wiseman & Moradi, 2010; Yelland & Tiggemann, 2003).

Whilst these two models are not necessarily incompatible, they do lead to some differing predictions. Specifically, connection with the gay community is a stress-ameliorating factor in minority stress models (Meyers, 2003), and thus may act as a protective factor against body image dissatisfaction under such models. Conversely, community involvement models highlight connection to the gay community as a risk factor for developing body image dissatisfaction. These two models have not been directly compared. The current study attempted to provide preliminary evidence to address this gap, by examining patterns of correlations among variables relevant to each model to identify which is better able to predict body dissatisfaction in a sample of homosexual men.

As well as displaying a higher level of body image dissatisfaction, homosexual men display a preference for body shape that is different from that preferred by heterosexual men. Specifically, homosexual men idealise a body shape that is both more muscular and thinner (Yelland & Tiggemann, 2003), and thus they may experience competing pressures to build more muscle whilst trying to maintain a slim physique (Kaminiski et al., 2005). In previous research, it has been implicitly assumed that the drive to become more muscular and the drive towards thinness both result from feelings of body dissatisfaction. However, it is conceivable that they have different antecedents. The aim of the current, correlational study is to examine drive for thinness and drive for muscularity separately, to examine whether they are related to distinct patterns of predictor variables.

In summary, we conducted a preliminary examination of the relationship between variables identified by minority stress models and community involvement models regarding body image dissatisfaction in gay men. Also, the study aims to investigate how these variables relate to different aspects of body image, specifically the drive for muscularity and the drive for thinness. The current study examines only young gay-identifying men (aged 1835 years), given that youthfulness is a key component of the gay body aesthetic (Drummond, 2006), and thus gay men may present with different body image difficulties as the effects of age begin to become apparent.


Participants and Design

Seventy-four gay-identifying men aged 20-35 (M = 26.92, SD = 3.88) were recruited through gay clubs and organisations at the University of Sydney, social networking websites, and local gay charity groups. Of these, 64 completed the demographics questionnaire and at least one of the measures, and were included in the analyses. Participants had an average body mass index (BMI; weight in kgs/height in [metres.sup.2]) of 23.53 (SD = 3.46, range 15.43-32.89). The majority of participants resided in the Sydney region (n = 55), reported European ancestry (n = 53, Asian n = 6, Other n = 5), and held a tertiary-level qualification (Bachelors degree n = 22, Postgraduate degree n = 17, Post-high school certificate or diploma n = 12, High school only n = 8, Graduate certificate or diploma n = 4, Failed to complete high school n = 1).

The design was correlational, with body dissatisfaction variables (drive for muscularity and drive for thinness) as the criterion variables. The predictors (connection to gay community, rejection sensitivity, self-esteem, stigma consciousness, internalised homophobia) were selected on the basis of their relevance to the Minority Stress Model and Objectification Theory.


Drive for muscularit3, (DFM), the degree to which participants are striving towards, or are concerned with maintaining, a muscular body shape, was assessed by the 15-item Drive for Muscularity Scale (McCreary & Sasse, 2000: [alpha] = 0.881). Participants used a 6-point scale to indicate the extent to which they agreed with each item (e.g., "I think my weight training schedule interferes with other aspects of my life"). Higher scores indicate greater desire to be more muscular (possible range 0-75).

Drive for thinness (DFT), the extent to which participants are striving towards, or are concerned with maintaining, a thin body shape, was assessed via the 7-item Drive for Thinness subscale of the Eating Disorder Inventory (Garner, 1991; [alpha] = 0.897). Responses to items (e.g., "I am terrified of gaining weight") were scored on a 6-point scale. Higher scores indicate greater desire to achieve or maintain a thin body shape (possible range 0-35).

Openness about being gay, comfort with being gay, and involvement with the gay community were assessed via the Gay Community Involvement Inventory (Appendix), which was developed for the current study. It consists of three sections, with all items rated on a 5-point scale. The first three items asked participants how open they are with being gay to their family, friends and work colleagues, with higher scores indicating a greater degree of openness about their sexual orientation (possible range 0-12). Second, participants were asked to respond to the single item "How comfortable are you with being gay?" Finally, participants rated 10 items ([alpha] = 0.853) about how often they engage in various gay community-related activities (e.g., "How often do you attend gay-oriented bars or nightclubs?"), with higher scores indicating involvement with the gay community (possible range 0-40).

Rejection sensitivity (RS), the level of sensitivity to rejection on the basis of sexual orientation, was indexed via the gay-related Rejection Sensitivity scale (Pachankis, Goldfried, & Ramrattan, 2008; [alpha] = 0.846). It consists of 14 ambiguous situations where rejection has occurred (e.g., "You go to a party and you and your partner are the only gay people there. No one seems interested in talking to you"). Participants indicated on a 6-point scale how concerned or anxious they would be that the situation occurred because of their sexual orientation, and how likely that the situation occurred because of their sexual orientation. Concern ratings and likelihood ratings were multiplied for each item, and then scores for each item were summed and divided by 14 in order to arrive at an average product of concern by likelihood. Higher scores indicate greater sensitivity to rejection based on sexual orientation (possible range 1-36).

Stigma consciousness (SC), the belief that the general community holds stigma towards homosexuals, was assessed via the Stigma Consciousness Questionnaire for gay men and lesbians (Pinel, 1999; [alpha] = 0.868). It consists of I0 statements (e.g., "Most heterosexuals have a problem viewing homosexuals as equals") that participants rate their level of agreement with on a 7-point scale. Higher scores indicate greater consciousness of stigma directed at homosexuals (possible range 10-70).

Self-esteem was assed via the Rosenberg Self-esteem Inventory (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965; [alpha] = 0.899). Participants rated on a 4-point scale their level of agreement with 10 statements (e.g., "On the whole, I am satisfied with myself"). Higher scores indicate greater self-esteem (possible range 0-30).

Internalised homophobia was indexed via the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998: for a review of validity evidence see Nosek, Greenwald, & Banaji, 2007). In the Homosexuality IAT (Nosek, Smyth, et al., 2007), participants categorise 8 target images (4 depicting homosexual couples, 4 depicting heterosexual couples) and 16 evaluative words (eight pleasant, eight unpleasant) as quickly and as accurately as possible. In one of the critical blocks (60 trials), participants were instructed to press one key whenever they saw a picture of a heterosexual couple or a pleasant word, and another key whenever they saw a picture of a homosexual couple or an unpleasant word. The keys used to categorise homosexual and heterosexual couples were switched in the other critical block. The pairing of "homosexual" with "pleasant" in the first or second set of trials was randomised between participants. Participants who respond more quickly when "homosexual" shares a key with "unpleasant" than when it shares a key with "pleasant" are understood to have an implicit preference for heterosexuals rather than homosexuals. IAT effects were computed using the algorithm described by Greenwald, Nosek, and Banaji (2003), with higher IAT effects indicating stronger implicit pro-heterosexual preference.

Body mass index (BMI: weight/[height.sup.2]) was calculated based on self-report of height and weight. It was included as a control variable.


The study was conducted as an online survey. Participants were informed that the study was examining "how gay men feel about themselves, their bodies and the world around them". Participants logged on to a secure internet website, where they were informed that they must be a gay-identifying male, aged 18-35, and living in Australia to complete the survey. Participants then completed a short demographic survey, which included questions about age, postcode, height, weight, education, and religiosity. This was followed by the homosexuality IAT, and finally the questionnaires presented in a random order.


Descriptive statistics for each variable and intercorrelations among the variables are shown in Table 1. Correlations were obtained for each predictor variable with both body dissatisfaction variables (DFM and DFT). Correlations between the demographic variables and the body image variables were also examined but none were significant (all p > 0.1). Predictors for which the correlation with either of the body dissatisfaction variables was significant or approaching significance (p < 0.10) were entered into a multiple-linear regression.

Drive for muscularity. Stigma Consciousness, connection/involvement with the gay community and comfort with being gay were entered into a multiple linear regression with DFM as the criterion. The overall model was significant, F(3,48) = 3.08, p = 0.036, and accounted for 16.2% of the variance in DFM. Connection/involvement with the gay community remained the only significant predictor, [beta] = 0.29, t(48) = 2.135, p = 0.038, with greater connection/involvement being associated with greater drive for muscularity.

Drive for thinness. The Rosenberg Self-esteem Inventory, IAT scores, Rejection Sensitivity and BMI were entered into a multiple linear regression with DFT as the criterion. The overall model was significant, F(4,43) = 7.73, p < 0.001, and accounted for 41.8% of the variance. BMI ([beta] = 1.30, t(43) = 4.09,p < 0.001) and self-esteem ([beta] = -0.56, t(43) = -2.92, p = 0.006) remained the only significant predictors, with lower self-esteem and higher BMI being associated with higher drive for thinness. When BMI was removed for the analysis, leaving only the psychosocial variables, the overall model remained significant, F(3,50) = 4.19, p = 0.01, accounting for 20.1% of the variance. Self-esteem remained a significant predictor, [beta] = -0.306, t(50) = -2.19, p = 0.033, and the IAT score being moderately, but not significantly predictive, [beta] = -0.24, t(50) = -1.87, p = 0.067.

Dissociation of predictors. Using the formula for testing the difference between two non-independent correlation coefficients (Williams, 1959, in Howell, 2002), the difference between the strength of the two sets of variables to predict each of the body image variables was examined. With the set of predictors that correlated with Drive for Thinness (Self-esteem, IAT, Rejection Sensitivity, BMI), the model was significantly better able to predict Drive for Thinness than Drive for Muscularity whether BMI was included in the analysis, t(44) = -3.81 ,p < 0.01, or when BMI was excluded, t(50) = -2.38,p < 0.02. With the set of predictors that correlated with Drive for Muscularity (connection/involvement to community, comfort being gay, stigma consciousness), the model was not significantly better able to predict Drive for Muscularity than Drive for Thinness, t(48) = 1.22, p > 0.1.


The aim of this correlational study was to examine psychosocial factors that have been hypothesised to be implicated in the higher rates of body dissatisfaction in homosexual men, and to view their specific relationships with both the drive to become thinner and the drive to become more muscular. Drive for thinness was correlated with sensitivity to rejection based on sexual orientation. However, when controlling for self-esteem this correlation fell into non-significance, indicating that general feelings of low self-worth may account for the relationship between rejection sensitivity and the desire for a thin body shape. This is consistent with a general minority stress model of mental health in homosexual men (Meyer, 1995, 2003). However. the results also showed that rejection sensitivity and self-esteem were significantly better able to predict drive for thinness than drive for muscularity, with which they had no significant relationship. This is inconsistent with theorising within minority stress models that links elevated drive for muscularity observed in homosexual men to a desire to fend off antigay attack or feel powerful in the face of stigma or rejection (Kimmel & Mahalik, 2005). Indeed, after other variables were controlled for, drive for muscularity was only consistently related to connection and involvement with the gay community. This is more consistent with models of homosexual body dissatisfaction that focus on the pressures emanating from within the gay community to achieve a certain body shape to be considered physically desirable (Siever, 1994; Williamson, 1999; Wiseman & Moradi, 2010; Yelland & Tiggemann, 2003). Whilst the reasons why the gay community places a high value on a muscular physique is beyond the scope of the current study, previous theorising has suggested a link between the drive for muscularity and a desire to appear more masculine in the lace of societal prejudice that links homosexuality and femininity, and a desire to avoid the lean, emaciated physique associated with AIDS (Signorile, 1997; Siconolfi et. al., 2009). Future work is needed to examine these ideas further.

The main contribution of the current research is to demonstrate that the drive for thinness and the drive for muscularity may be the related to different psychosocial factors, rather than manifestations of a single, underlying dissatisfaction with current body shape. Whilst it has been previously noted that homosexual men's desire to obtain a body shape that is both thin and muscular may lead to behavioural conflict, due to the inherent difficulty in attempting to lose fat whilst simultaneously attempting to put on muscle mass (Kaminski et. al., 2005), the notion that the drives might be representative of different processes has not yet been fully explored. The current study provides preliminary correlational evidence that this should be examined with controlled experimental work. Such experimentation could include manipulating perceived ideals held by members of the gay community or priming participants to be increasingly aware of prejudice directed towards the gay community and examining the impact this has on body dissatisfaction variables. Also of interest was the association between negative attitudes to homosexuals on the IAT and a higher BMI. This moderate, but non-significant correlation may be a hint that homosexual men with a larger body shape are less happy with being gay, perhaps as a result of the stringent standards of physically attractiveness that are set by the gay community. However, replication will be essential before taking this possibility seriously.

The findings have implications for clinical and community work. In a clinical setting, the results show the importance of assessing the specific body concerns of individuals in order to determine the most appropriate targets of treatment. A thorough intervention would need to examine both constructs related to minority stress (such as expectation of rejection and negative views of homosexuality) and pressure to present a certain body shape emanating from within the gay community, in order to fully address difficulties that clients may experience. At a community level, the unrealistic standards of physical attractiveness need to be addressed. Focus group research has highlighted how the importance that the gay community places on physical attractiveness is one of the key reasons that homosexual men may choose not to become involved (LeBeau & Jellison, 2009), despite the general benefits of a sense of belonging to the gay community (McLaren, Jude, & McLachlan, 2007, 2008). Thus, this perceived over-emphasis on physical attractiveness may be leading to negative outcomes for those who do become involved within the community, and may dissuade others from accessing what may be an important source of support against minority stress.

The current study has several limitations. Firstly, the sample consisted of mostly white, educated men, and was limited to those aged under 35. These findings may not generalise to other racial or age groups. In particular, future research may consider focusing on older gay males, given that ageing may represent a specific challenge in a culture that places a high emphasis on physical beauty (Drummond, 2006). Second, given the correlational nature of the study and the relatively small sample size of 64 participants who were included in the analyses, the conclusions are at best tentative, and should be followed up with larger scale studies that may include experimental work. Finally, the current study did not include a screen for eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder. It may be beneficial for future research to include such a screen to examine whether the relationships observed would also apply to individuals with clinical level body image disturbances.

In conclusion, the present study examined psychosocial correlates of homosexual body image dissatisfaction to compare with two models of its causes. The results suggested that the drive for thinness and the drive for muscularity may be related to separate psychosocial factors, and showed some support for both minority stress and community involvement-based theories of the heightened risk homosexual men have for body image disturbances. Future research should further examine the drive for thinness and the drive for muscularity as separate but related aspects of body dissatisfaction.

DOI: 10.3149/jmh.1102.127


Gay Community Involvement Inventory

1. How open are you about being gay with your:

a. Family?

Completely hidden ... mostly hidden ... neither hidden nor open ... mostly open ... completely open

b. Friends?

Completely hidden ... mostly hidden ... neither hidden nor open ... mostly open ... completely open

c. Co-workers and employers?

Completely hidden ... mostly hidden ... neither hidden nor open ... mostly open ... completely open

2. How comfortable are you with being gay?

Very uncomfortable ... somewhat uncomfortable ... neither comfortable nor uncomfortable ... somewhat comfortable ... very comfortable

3. Compared to the average suburb, do you believe that the area that you live in has ...?

A very small gay population ... a below average gay population ... an average-sized gay population ... an above average gay population ... a very large gay population

4. How often do you participate in gay-oriented activist or charitable groups?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

5. How often do you attend gay-oriented gyms or sporting/recreational groups?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

6. How often do you attend gay-oriented bars or night clubs?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

7. How often do you attend parties with mostly gay attendees?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

8. How often do you attend gay sex clubs, saunas or public cruising areas?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

9. How often do you read gay-oriented newspapers and magazines?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

10. How often do you visit gay-oriented dating or community websites?

Never ... rarely ... sometimes ... often ... very often

11. My friends are ....

Predominantly heterosexual ... mostly heterosexual ... about half homosexual and half heterosexual ... mostly homosexual ... predominantly homosexual.

12. Overall, I feel ...

Not at all connected to the gay community ... not very connected to the gay community ... somewhat connected to the gay community ... very connected to the gay community ... extremely connected to the gay community.


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* University of Sydney.

** University of Virginia.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Christopher John Hunt, School of Psychology, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Email:
Table 1

Means, Standard Deviations, and Intercorrelations of Variables

               M      SD       Range         1         2         3

1. Connect   19.55    8.00      3-37        --
2. Out       10.02    2.47      0-12        .33 *     --
3. Comfort    3.05    1.37      0-4        -.00       .36 **    --
4. RS        11.30    5.56   2.29-25.29    -.27 *    -.38 **   -.37 **
5. SC        38.26   12.03     12-66       -.19      -.20      -.20
6. RSE       20.34    5.55      6-30        .26 *     .32 *     .21
7. IAT       -0.11    0.46    -10-1.2       .04      -.20      -.10
8. DFT       14.35    8.64      0-30        .02       .06      -.15
9. DFM       28.40   13.85      2-64        .23 (+)  -.05      -.23 (+)
10. BM1      14.35    8.64   15.4-32.9      .18       .10      -.15

                4         5          6         7        8        9

1. Connect
2. Out
3. Comfort
4. RS          --
5. SC          .59 **    --
6. RSE        -.42 **   -.26 (+)    --
7. IAT        -.02      -.02        .09       --
8. DFT         .27 *     .06       -.37 **   -.26 *     --
9. DFM         .07       .28 *     -.08      -.07       .29 *     --
10. BM1        .06      -.08        .16      -.26 (+)   .48 **   -.01

Note. Connection = reported connection/involvement with the gay
community; Out = reported level of being "out" to family, friends
and co-workers; Comfort = reported level of comfort with being gay;
RS = gay-related Rejection Sensitivity scale; SC = Stigma
Consciousness Questionnaire for gay men and lesbians; RSE = Rosenberg
Self-esteem Inventory; IAT = Implicit Association Test; DFT = Drive
for Thinness subscale of the Eating Disorder Inventory (Garner, 1991);
DFM = Drive for Muscularity Scale; BMI = Body mass index.

(+) 0.1 >p>0.05. * p<0.05. ** p<0.01.
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