Public perception often holds that diseases like anorexia are a female issue, even though men suffer too. But what's interesting, according to new research published by the University of Sydney, are the different ways body dissatisfaction shows in men.
While women tend to obsess over minimising weight, men are more likely to be preoccupied with beefing up. As the report explains, muscle dysmorphia—sometimes known as "bigorexia"—can cause leave sufferers perpetually dissatisfied with their muscle mass, even if they spend seven days a week in the gym. The paper also found that affected men were more likely to suffer from mental health issues, such as depression.
Dr Scott Griffiths, one of the authors of the study, explained how body image disorders were often exacerbated within male social structures. "We come from a cultural framework that has decades of roots, which say men should have a stiff upper lip, to suck it up. Especially on mental health and body image issues," he told VICE. "Men can take it more personally because their closest friends tend to also be men, and for that reason they're less likely to talk about how they're feeling."
Dr Griffiths also discussed the role bodybuilding can play in the development of body image disorders, saying that there was a framework to treat disorders based on weight, but not muscle mass. "Recreational bodybuilding is taking off. It's a symptom of men and women succumbing to a society that says appearance is everything," he said. "It's become over emphasised and now we can't look beyond appearance. It's shifted from something we care about to something we obsess over."
The paper also discusses a link between people who use steroids and those who develop muscle dysmorphia. "The use of anabolic steroids, which is strongly linked to male body dissatisfaction, as well as eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, is increasing."
Many of the problems surrounding body image expectations—in both men and women—come from advertisements and similar media. People are exposed to unrealistic representations of beauty on a daily basis and this can compound the effects of body image disorders.
Dr Griffiths believes the first step in combatting disorders like muscle dysmorphia is eliminating cultural stigmas. "We haven't been trained not to stigmatise with guys. We're trying to build a pathway and get muscle dysmorphia recognised," he said. "Once we have more information then we can start to inform prevention programmes for both men and women."
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