For the study, lead author Jennifer Aubrey at the University of Missouri measured male exposure to 'lad' magazines, such as Maxim, FHM and Stuff, which she observes contains two main messages: the visual, which mostly contain sexually suggestive images of women; and textual, which contain articles that speak in a bawdy, male voice about topics including fashion, sex, technology and pop culture.
Aubrey also measured male body self-consciousness and appearance anxiety. Participants were asked questions such as "During the day, I think about how I look," and then asked the same questions a year later.
"We found that reading lad magazines was related to having body self-consciousness a year later. This was surprising because if you look at the cover of these magazines, they are mainly images of women. We wondered why magazines that were dominated by sexual images of women were having an effect of men's feelings about their own bodies," said Aubrey.
In order to help answer this question, Aubrey collaborated with University of California-Davis Assistant Professor Laramie Taylor to
The researchers divided male study participants into three groups. Group one examined layouts from lad magazines that featured objectified women along with a brief description of their appearances.
The second group viewed layouts about male fashion, featuring fit and well-dressed male models. The final group inspected appearance-neutral layouts that featured topics including technology and film trivia.
"Men who viewed the layouts of objectified females reported more body self-consciousness than the other two groups. Even more surprising was that the male fashion group reported the least amount of body self-consciousness among the three groups," Aubrey said.
Aubrey speculated that the exposure to objectified females increased self-consciousness because men are reminded that in order to be sexually or romantically involved with a woman of similar attractiveness, they need to conform to strict appearance standards.
In order to test her theory, the researchers conducted a third study that involved breaking men into two groups. Group one received lad magazine layouts of sexually idealized females and group two received the same layouts with average-looking 'boyfriends' added to the photos, with captions about how the female models are attracted to the average-looking men.
"We found that the men who view the ads with the average-looking boyfriend in the picture reported less body self-consciousness than the men who saw the ads with just the model. When the men felt that the model in the ad liked average-looking guys, it took the pressure off of them and made them less self-conscious about their own bodies," Aubrey said.
The study will be published in Human Communication Research.