Films are a major source of entertainment for youths. According to a statistics report conducted by Motion Pictures Association of America, youths between the ages of 12 and 17 year old go to the movies most frequently in relation to their population size. Out of the 8% of population in US and Canada that 12-17 year olds make up, 15% of them are frequent moviegoers (Theatrical Market Statistics). Youths are heavily exposed to films and subtle messages could potentially affect them. One of these messages is the way masculinity is portrayed through the characters in the film. Males in films are shown to be tough, handsome and display some sort of heroism. These traits are inserted into films for all ages, like animated and live action films.
In animated films, specifically Disney films, males are majoraly shown to be charming, good-looking and tough. In Beauty and the Beast, female villagers were attracted to Gaston because he is muscular, handsome and rich. In a more recent film, Frozen, Duke of Weselton is short with a higher pitched voice and portrayed to be annoying and unliked by most people (Abbadessa, Ellie, and Derek Jenkins). In live action, especially superhero films, the body of the characters play an important role in showing who’s powerful. An examination of superheroes in the media reveals that strong male stereotypes are portrayed with men who exercised a lot for the role. These stereotypes are fast, powerful, aggressive and a muscular ideal body type. In this genre, male body stereotypes are dramaticized to take advantage of the already held views in masculinity portrayed in US films (Coyne, Sarah M.). Some examples include Captain America and Superman. They have super idealised athletic builds. Average bicep size of a fit man should be about 33cm. Captain America and Superman have a bicep measurement of roughly 43cm (Adams, Sam) and 41cm (Heightline) respectively.
This disproportionate display of the muscular body type supports the cultivation theory. Heavy mass media users tend to “cultivate” perceptions of the world that are congruent with those shown in the media. Being constantly exposed to this body type in films, boys are given a false impression that that body shape is normal since most of the characters look like that. In an analysis of 160 characters of live action films, 76.1% were muscular (Morrison, Todd G., and Marie Halton). This majority of the muscular body shape gives the impression that that body shape is common. This impacts boys who look at themselves and do not see their body looking like the “normal”.
Being constantly exposed to such body standard impacts the behaviour and mindset of boys, leading to body dissatisfaction. A questionnaire surveying 817 boys found that 37.1% of them were dissatisfied with their bodies and 8.58% said they felt pressured by the media (Knauss, Christine, et al.). In another research conducted by Duane A. Hargreaves and Marika Tiggemann, the mean of body dissatisfaction in boys increased from 1.83 to 2.30 after being exposed to a commercial with ideal body appearance. Furthermore, in another research, it is discovered that 19.4% of boys aged 8-13 years old wanting to appear muscular (McCabe, Marita P., and Lina A. Ricciardelli). To achieve their ‘dream’ body, young males develop an eating disorder unconsciously when altering the diet. This is the most common result of wanting to change body image, by changing their diet in order to consume enough to gain muscle or lose weight. In United States and Australia, up to 30% of young males have been reported to face body dissatisfaction and adopt unhealthy eating habits (Limber, CA, et al).
Body dissatisfaction does not just stop at eating disorders. A questionnaire done by 383 middle school boys found that 15.5% of the respondents had taken steroids as a way to enhance muscle building. Later on, this research asked the respondents who had tried steroids about the medium that had influenced them. 47.81% said they were influenced by mass media (Smolak, Linda).
Different people experience the same media message differently because each of us has a different background, age, education, etc., we do not see the same movie or hear the same song the same way. In a research conducted by Ariana F. Young, et al, some males who watch superhero movies develop parasocial relationship (PSR) with the superhero. PSR is a term made up by Horton and Wohl in 1956, referring to an audience developing a one-sided relationship with a character they see regularly in mass media. Participants that developed PSR usually have similar body shape to their superheroes. When they see that body being shown as an ideal, they feel more confident about themselves and develop a healthier relationship with their bodies. Contradictory, participants who did not develop a PSR tend to have “less ideal” bodies. Thus when they are exposed to the ideal body, they felt more insecure about themselves (Young, Ariana F.).
To conclude, portrayal of masculinity in films affect boys in different ways. For boys who took it negatively have detrimental effect to their physical and mental health.