Much research points to higher levels of disordered eating and more negative body image in gay and bisexual men than in heterosexual men. The reasons for this difference, however, remain unclear. We hypothesized that disturbed body image and eating attitudes in gay and bisexual men would be partially explained by susceptibility to social messages.
Two hundred and sixty-two men (203 heterosexual, 46 gay and 13 bisexual) between 18 and 35 years of age participated in the study. They completed measures of disordered eating, body image, internalization of attitudes toward appearance, and concern for appropriateness. In addition, they were asked to what extent they were influenced by ten advertisements, four that emphasized physical appearance, and six that did not.
As shown in previous research, gay and bisexual men reported higher levels of disordered eating and dissatisfaction with their bodies than heterosexual men. In addition, the gay and bisexual men were more susceptible than the heterosexual men to social messages, and reported being significantly more influenced than heterosexual men by advertisements focusing on physical appearance, but not by other advertisements. Susceptibility to social messages fully mediated the association between sexual orientation and disordered eating.
Results provide support for the hypothesis that sensitivity to social messages about appearance explains, at least partially, the link between sexual orientation and disordered eating in men.