Lads: your mags are bad for your self image, too.

// 8 November 2008

Plenty of women have had negative reactions to the sexualised images of women on lads’ mags covers, but research conducted at the University of Missouri has concluded that reading lads’ mags also impacts negatively upon men’s self image, even a year after reading them. Interestingly, viewing sexualised images of women had more of a negative impact on male readers than fashion spreads featuring attractive male models. The study’s lead author, Jennifer Aubrey, speculates 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.

This was confirmed by test subjects reporting fewer feelings of self-consciousness when the women were pictured with average looking boyfriends.

While this is of course highly generalised (not to mention heteronormative), I think it’s interesting that while women’s sense of insecurity when viewing lads’ mags generally seems to stem from a tendency to compare ourselves and compete with other women, men’s stems from a desire to possess the women pictured; they do not, it appears, feel threatened by images of attractive men, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a woman having a body image crisis when looking at a picture of a fit male model.

In conclusion, lads’ mags reinforce a patriarchal value system which makes everyone feel like crap. Maybe time to turn to a nice online feminist magazine instead, eh?

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 8 November 2008 at 10:25 pm

On reading the synopsis of this research it appears men feel bad after consuming so-called lads’ mags because these men feel they are being denied the right of ‘sexually conquering’ these women. Since these computer altered female images would not even consider an ‘average man.’ How dare these images not consider ‘the average man’ – back to blaming women again, because men are taught it is their right to view all women as potential sexualised commodities.

Reminds me how many men become angry when a woman dares to reject their sexual advances – doesn’t she know it is a man’s right to see women as sexual prey?

Laurel Dearing // Posted 8 November 2008 at 11:46 pm

kinda makes me think of all the new shows where geeky or normal guys or whatever are being paired off with attractive made up girls… sorta like EVERY guy deserves a hot chick. it might be one up for the normal guys but it really doesnt help the rest of us at times like these V.V

Colin // Posted 9 November 2008 at 3:57 pm

As an overweight bloke, I do have to admit that the constant emphasis on ‘buff’ blokes in popular culture these days does make me feel a tad insecure (especially as I don’t have much confidence with girls). I fully appreciate, of course, that women have had to deal with these pressures for far longer and in a far more intense way than men have had to.

However, the thing that I’ve always found far more alienating about lad mags is their propogation of the idea that it’s only laddish blokes who are attractive to women, and that we should all conform to a footy-loving, Stella-supping, babe-ogling dumbed down stereotype.

And as a geeky fat guy, am I supposed to be heartened by Judd Aptow films which show the likes of Seth Rogan getting the ‘hot’ girls? Frankly, I just think they’re deeply sexist “revenge of the nerds” wish fulfilment fantasies.

Zenobia // Posted 10 November 2008 at 1:08 pm

This is a point I’ve noticed you make before, Laura, and it’s definitely a very good point, and more people should listen.

It seems a little illogical to me that we get so annoyed by women’s magazines and how they don’t reflect what women actually aspire to or what our lives are like – then we assume that men’s magazines are going to be an accurate reflection of what men enjoy and what they like doing to women.

Jennifer and Laurel, there’s far more to it than what you’re saying. There’s more to it than just the right to conquer any woman, although there is probably a sense of entitlement there too. There’s the pressure on what kind of women men are supposed to be attracted to, for instance – let alone whether they’re attracted to women at all. Then there’s a lot more than that, everything else that makes up the mags, the cars and the army recruitment ads in the ones aimed at more working class men ..

Really, the version of masculinity promoted by these mags is just as oppressive as the femininity promoted by Marie-Claire.

In any case, whatever our doubts about the sense of entitlement of the men reading the mags, or anything else about them, surely it’s a good idea not to have any foregone conclusions about it (i.e. ‘ooh those poor men forced to oppress women let me get my violin’, or ‘you can’t trust men, because they want to harm women anyway’) and just analyse these things. I mean, even if we’re going to postulate that all men are rapists and love reading their copy of Loaded between two bouts of frantic non-consensual lurve, we still need to find out why. And ‘because they’re just like that’, especially coming from feminists, doesn’t cut it.

Laura // Posted 10 November 2008 at 1:19 pm

Colin – as Zenobia says above (yes yes yes to all of your comment, Z!), both lads’ mags and women’s mags are full of stereotypical rubbish about what men and women supposedly are or should be like, and I actually don’t think most of us buy into it too much, even though we may feel pressurised to do so to a greater or lesser extent.

I for one would certainly prefer a geeky fat guy to a lad!

Alex B (male) // Posted 10 November 2008 at 4:28 pm

Laura, your statement that men “desire to possess” women and conclusion that “lads’ mags reinforce a patriarchal value system” are just your your pre-existing views I assume? Or do you believe the study supports them? (I don’t see how it does)

Kind regards,

Alex

Qubit // Posted 11 November 2008 at 12:04 am

I think it is probably more simple than ownership and to do with ‘standards’. I think women feel they should look like a glamour model to get any guy irrespective of what he looks like while guys feel they need to be attractive to get a ‘hot’ girlfriend.

I think it is more socially acceptable for a girl to date someone who is not typically physically attractive while guys are often frowned on for this. This is a culture we have to be worried about encouraging as it makes everyone miserable. It is important people aren’t influenced too much by others opinions of physical attractiveness.

Colin I think the reason for that is because that is the audience they want to appeal to. Magazines for geeks tend to focus less on ogling women, I suppose a magazine for which that is a chief focus wouldn’t do very well if women said they hated it.

sianmarie // Posted 11 November 2008 at 1:03 pm

shameless self promotion but Bristol Feminist Network went and did some guerilla activity against lad’s mags on saturdays, sticking fake covers on them, turning them round and generally making the point! you can see the fruits of our efforts at the Representation Project get together on sat 15th november at st werburghs community centre from 12 noon!

it was great to take action against lad’s mags which make me feel like shit.

“lad’s mags present a one dimensional view of female and male sexuality”

xx

Sabre // Posted 11 November 2008 at 1:27 pm

@ Qubit

‘Magazines for geeks tend to focus less on ogling women’

yeah, apart from Hot Stuff! All about technology… but with a woman in a bikini!

Bah

Anne Onne // Posted 11 November 2008 at 3:38 pm

Eh, mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it’s good that the fact that lads’ mags are harmful is pointed out, because they are.

For a start, they’re ridiculously photoshopped. You’ll find plenty of their images on sites like Photoshop Disasters because the industry has decided that realism or reality bear no importance to photography.

I’m trying to understand the specific argument of how it affects men, and whether to say ‘wah fucking wah, get over it!’ or be genuinely sympathetic, and I suspect it may be both. I can understand that unrealistic images (of men, too) and of what men should be like (macho, aggressive, always want sex, be manly studs who always magically please the girl and take the lead etc) are bad for men and can hurt their self-esteem. They help make dating and relationships a minefield for men and women, and contribute to rape culture and the marginalisation of women.

There’s the rub. These things above don’t just harm men, they harm women, too. It’s not just that girls get the message that their only role is to sexualy gratify men, that their only worth is their fuckability (and boys that women’s worth is their fuckability). It’s not just that girls learn that boys prefer women (or say they prefer women) like these models, with impossibly thin waists and huge breasts and backs that bend an impossible angle, who are skinny without the physically realistic details of a naturally thin person, and feel bad for not living up to this standard.

It’s also just that boys get conditioned to be turned on by these unrealistic portrayals of women’s looks and behaviour and expect real girls to be like this. That men feel entitled to the impossible images of women, and how women are supposed to act, and then feel let down by reality. Because in the real world, there aren’t any women who look exactly like those in the pictures, because the pictures are photoshopped. Because even the naturally skinny women with large breasts might have cellulite or the odd spot or a not-so-flat stomach or whatnot. Because the kind of image they see exists only in the imaginations of those who buy into it.

It’s not great that lads’ mags are built around selling the illusion that all of these women want nothing more in life but to be used. Whilst I believe fantasies are everyone’s right, society doesn’t treat everyone equally. Fantasies are supposedly only for heterosexual men, and the idea is always of a passive woman being posessed as an object, something there to serve men. And since I suspect that a part of men’s reactions is that some feel disappointed that real life women don’t look like that, and won’t just shut up and suck it, I’m not feeling a great deal of sympathy for men who feel let down by the image. Yes, it sucks that you were sold a seductive, false image of sex. Now, can you help us,and if you’re one of the men stepping on our necks, can you please get off?

Also, I really don’t like photoshopped photography. I have no problem with digital art because it never purports to be reality, but something that most people take for a photo, and pretends to be of a real person feels different to me. I feel heavily photoshopped pictures break the unspoken trust between the photographer and the viewer that says : this is a picture of something that exists.

It’s not photoshop alone that bothers me, but how it is used to spread the idea that women should look a certain way that is very different from reality, and the conjunction of how it is used to strengthen gender roles and show that women should be obedient sex slaves ready to serve their masters 24/7.

The reality we have to remember is that the patriarchy treats men and women differently, so that pressures on men and women aren’t equal. And that those who are at the bottom of the heirarchy are the ones that those on the top take out their anger or insecurities on. That’s why I think it important for men to rightly feel the impact of these magazines and how they make them feel. I also think it important, though that it is not the only angle we address this from, because as a privileged group, on the whole men’s insecurities and beliefs about themselves and women are taken out on women. *

I’d have to agree with Sabre, though. Too many ‘geeky’ magazines could be focusing on gadgets/games/etc but use it as an excuse to paste in pictures of half-naked women and write in a way that is dismissive of women. I don’t appreciate being ignored as a potential reader, or deemed less important, and pictures of bikini babes in a computer magazine is definitely dismissive to female readers.

There really is no reason that there should be pictures of half-naked women selling something or just randomly present in most publications (I have an issue with current porn mags/lad’s mags, but that’s a different one), and the only reason is that society sees women on the whole as being there to ‘sell’ stuff, as being a decoration for men to enjoy. Society feels so entitled to this decoration being enjoyed, that it doesn’t raise an eyebrow when half-naked women are displayed on /selling all sorts of things that are not particularly sexual, and not even necessarily aimed at heterosexual men.

Colin: it’s so great you don’t fall for the Nice Guy/Jerk dichotomy that merely objectifies women as objects for different men to feel entitled to fight over. I do wish that people of all genders are given a break, and the emphasis on rugged macho manliness does NOT do men a favour.

*Women have the power to take their insecurities or gender role beliefs on men, too, and it makes me sad when I see a woman insulting some man for being a ‘sissy’ or ‘unmanly’ or something like that. But overall, since men are the ones in power, they have the most power to abuse and take out on others as a whole.

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