Feeling crap about the way you look is a common story, and can make you feel rubbish about yourself. In the age of Instagram and photo sharing in social media, there has been an exponential growth in the number of men who suffer from body dysmorphia. But the sad news is that most of these issues arise during formative teenage years!
While traditionally a man’s role in society has been clearly defined with the ‘ideal’ male offering strength and security for their partner. Nowadays, it feels as though this ideal of strength and security is partnered with the need to present masculinity through physical appearance. This is clearly reflected in the dissatisfaction of body image which has tripled in the last 25 years, from 15% to 45%.
One of the most common forms of male body dysmorphia is muscle dysmorphia which is where one focuses on the belief that their body is too small, with not inadequate musculature. In today’s age where Instagram, film, and television are filled with actors who are likely taking steroids to up their muscles, it is growing harder for adolescent males if their depictions of masculinity all come with over-enlarged muscles.
Muscle dysphoria in teenagers
This is clearly seen in the statistics, which show a growing trend in teenage boys to gain muscle. One study found that 25% of male children in the U.S were concerned about their muscles, wanting greater tone and definition. Another one found that out of 15,624 American high school boys, 30% reported a desire to gain weight to increase muscle prominence. This isn’t just an American phenomenon, with 12% of Australian boys meeting the criteria for an eating disorder owing to body image issues.
The sad reality is that most people affected by muscle dysmorphia are usually large and muscular already and compulsively train at the gym while sticking to an intense diet and supplements. This need for enhancement can take one down the path of juicing on steroids, which can lead to abusing them for the quick results that they can give you.
Often it can be hard for men to realise that they have muscle dysmorphia as they struggle to open up.
In adult men, the statistics are even higher, with a study of French university students showing that 85% were dissatisfied with their muscularity. 2.5% of the German male population have significant muscle dysphoria, and 22% of young men engage in muscle-enhancing behaviour.
How to Know if You Have Muscle Dysmorphia
You might now be wondering whether you have muscle dysphoria. That is something that only you can answer, but here are some things to think about.
- Do you go to the gym because you’re self-conscious about your body?
- Do you always think you are overweight, skinny, or not the “ideal” male?
- Do you spend hours in the gym or work out multiple times per day?
- Do you have an obsession with your diet that borders on the compulsive?
- Have you considered any supplementation such as hormone therapy without a prescription? Are you using supplements that have been proven to be unhealthy?
- Are you taking diuretics or laxatives for a cosmetic reason?
While the list of questions may be unreasonable, and you may not see anything wrong with it, but if you have all of these symptoms then you might have a problem. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s important to get help.
Talk to someone
Sometimes it can feel daunting to ask for help, particularly with something like muscle dysmorphia. You will feel as though you are eating healthily and looking after yourself, but actually, you might be doing the reverse. If you feel as though you are living an unhealthy fitness lifestyle, it might help if you talk to your GP or a physician about what a healthy diet could be like for you.
If you are approached by someone you know who has concerns about your diet, such as a personal trainer, then take it on board. Even if it is something like “Hey, your diet is really crazy right now”, or “Hey, you’re exercising a lot!”, this could still be meant out of concern. If you find this happening, rather than taking it personally, try and think about it and how they might be worried for you.
With the statistic that one in five males have said they negatively compared themselves to others because of body image in the last year alone, it means that you are likely not alone in this experience. The studies get worse with 11% of men surveyed saying that they have experienced suicidal thoughts and emotions owing to body image.
Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation Mark Rowland said:
“Body image is often seen as an issue that only affects women – but it is clear from our data that it is affecting millions of men in the UK as well.
“Men are also being surrounded by images of idealised body types – either through advertising or reality TV shows or digital media. It is important to recognize how this media environment can impact on men.
Mr Rowland continued:
“There is evidence to suggest that body image issues in men are becoming more pronounced and increases the risks of poor mental health. Men also can find it more difficult to talk about their mental health and to seek help.
“But none of this inevitable. There is much we can do as a society to reduce pressures on men and improve their mental health.”