Tim, one of the nurses here at HCDS, who is a regular blog contributor, approached me a while back with an idea. Inspired by a men’s health campaign he had read about in a journal article, he wanted to author a series of blog posts on men’s health. The idea was to publish one article, per week, on Mondays during the month of March – hence the name ‘Man Up Mondays in March’.
The first of these articles was published last week and encouraged men to consider getting regular health checkups. Today’s article focuses on the rarely talked about phenomena of body dysmorphia in men. Stay tuned every Monday during March for another article (5 in total).
If you want to connect with Tim in relation to any of his posts, you can email him on email@example.com
By Tim Adler
Men are not so great at talking about problems that might arise and cause stress. Body image seems to be one of these taboo areas. As such I feel an obligation to try and break this taboo in order to try to encourage others to feel safe enough to discuss this more openly.
For those of you that read my first blog article ‘My Journey to Happiness’ you might remember that I have made a number of changes to my lifestyle. Many of these were because of a desire to look and feel better about myself. Some of my previous behaviours and negative self-talk very much revolved around the way I looked.
I learned a number of things from these experiences. First, whilst it might seem that issues around body image only affect women I assure you that is not the case. Second, I learned an important difference between being obsessed about one’s body versus the desire to look after it with a healthy lifestyle.
Is body image a problem for men?
This is somewhat a difficult question to answer because, like so many other concerns that us men have, body image is something that seems to be kept to one’s self. As if to highlight this there are significantly fewer studies done regarding men and body dissatisfaction.
What I have found suggests that, like women, us men do have esteem issues relating to the way we look. For men, one of the complexities of body image concerns is we find a more even mix of men wanting to slim down or men wanting to bulk up. In some cases this can lead to men either under estimating their size in the way of muscle bulk or over estimating their total body fat.
Whilst slimming down or bulking up are in themselves not necessarily indicators that someone has body image issues, an intense preoccupation with these body changes could indicate more complex issues like body dysmorphia.
What is body dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia is the same for both men and women; this being a preoccupation with a part or parts of your body that you feel isn’t (aren’t) right. As a result you might constantly look at yourself in the mirror or compare your body to other people. One type of body dysmorphia that we see a lot more in men is muscle dysmorphia.
Muscle dysmorphia is the preoccupation with the idea that your body is insufficiently muscled or lean. This type of dysmorphia is noted almost entirely within the male population. More often than not these men look normal or may even be very muscular. People that have this type of body dysmorphia often adhere to rigorous diet and exercise schedules and often turn to steroids in an attempt to increase muscle mass.
Some signs of body dysmorphic disorder include:
- Being preoccupied with what you consider to be ‘flaws’ in your body
- Being the only person who considers these parts of your body as ‘flaws’
- Frequently checking the body part(s) you’re worried about in mirrors
- Frequently touching the part(s) of your body you don’t like
- Trying to hide or disguise the body part(s) you don’t like
- Avoiding going out or hanging out with others, because you feel so self-conscious about your appearance
- trying to ‘fix’ the body part – through exercise, medication, surgery, and other sorts of treatment.
Examples of behaviours relating to body dysmorphia:
- Excessive grooming (e.g. plucking, shaving, combing, styling)
- Skin picking
- Mirror checking or mirror avoidance
- Reassurance seeking
- Camouflaging (e.g. repeatedly covering areas with clothing or apparel)Touching disliked area
- Excessive exercise or weight lifting (particularly for muscle dysmorphia)
- Comparing appearance with that of others
- Seeking cosmetic procedures
- Excessive tanning
The effects of body dysmorphia may lead to:
- Use of appearance and performance enhancing drugs
- Extreme attempts to increase body weight and muscle mass
- Poor self-esteem
- Symptoms of depression
- Eating disorders
- Poorer quality of life
How has Hollywood impacted on body image in men?
There are many stories on the internet of how the ideal male body has changed over the years.
The most notable changes in the modern age regarding body image relates to how men are portrayed in movies. All you need to do is have a look at any modern superhero movie – for example Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in the Marvel Universe or Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in the X-men films
The problem with these bodies as a benchmark is that they are not the natural body shape for these actors. Typically they are spending up to two hours in the gym every day and are managed by a team of personal trainers and dietitians.
To hold these actors up as the perfect body image creates an unobtainable goal. Further to this these actors have a very different reason to obtain the muscle mass that they do. To compare yourself to the likes of Chris Hemsworth and other such actors is a recipe for poor self-esteem and body image dissatisfaction and for the most part is very difficult to live up to.
When does this all become a problem?
I kinda learned the answer to this question in my own quest for health. For example, I learned there is nothing wrong with trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, finding passions in gym, weight lifting or other such sports can be quite healthy and rewarding
The difference is that when we talk about a healthy lifestyle it is in relation to a holistic model, where you are doing a balance of activities to feed your mind, body, social life etc. A healthy lifestyle leads to both improvements in physical and mental health.
In body dysmorphia however, the focus isn’t so much on health but on an obsession with how you look, your weight, your muscle size. Your sense of who you are (e.g. personality) or your value as a human being (self-worth) get so intertwined with how you look that your whole perception gets distorted.
If you find that you have become singularly focused on the way you look, at the expense of other areas of your life, or you feel your self-worth is suffering because of the way you look, consider seeking medical help. The best starting point is your GP (or one of ours). You might also find it helpful to read a little more on the web. Here are some decent starting points:
Coming up next week……
In next week’s post, I explore an issue that is incredibly important, but can cause embarrassment and avoidance: sexual health.