As a professor for 17 years and counting, Addis has observed how the male college students in his classes have changed and adapted to shifting cultural norms. In recent years, more of them spend time in the gym, focus on their appearance and monitor body mass.
Most aren’t trying to lose weight — they’re documenting their physique, he said. It’s a far cry from the male celebrities of the 1950s — think Spencer Tracey or Robert Mitchum — who wore their heftiness as a sign of financial success or a way to demonstrate masculinity, Addis said.
He attributes the change to shifting gender roles.
“As women gain more financial power in society, men are expected to bring more to the table,” Addis said. “In addition to being financially successful, they need to be well-groomed, in good shape, emotionally skilled in relationships and the emphasis on looking good is just part of the bigger package — the stakes have been raised.”
Some psychologists and trend watchers said the male muscle obsession only grew during the last few years. As the economy struggled, men were sent looking for aspects of their lives they could define and control. Body image is, at times, the only thing.