You might be surprised to know that men suffer from body image issues just as women do. There’s an emerging disorder that we’re seeing in more and more men. Muscle Dysmorphia, referred to as MD or MDM, happens when you have a pathological preoccupation with muscularity and appearance. In the bodybuilding community, this is known as Bigorexia or Reverse Anorexia, where the primary focus is not on how thin a person can get but rather on how large and muscular. The perceived “malformation” is a lack of size or strength.
Steroids, excessive protein consumption, compulsive exercising, rigorous dietary rituals and extreme sensitivity to comments about appearance are all part of the symptoms men who struggle with MDM display.
David Wiss, nutritionist and founding member of the treatment team at Breathe, has put together an extensive presentation of common signs and symptoms of MDM, as well as treatment and referral options. According to David, the socio-cultural belief systems that men are exposed to from an early age have a direct hand in the development of MDM. Some factors include perfectionism, bullying, childhood trauma, and childhood obesity. Although the exact causes are unknown, participation in athletics can be a “gateway” to MDM
He doesn’t give the fitness industry a pass either. David claims that, like the fashion industry’s controversial use of underweight models, the fitness industry relies on unrealistic imagery, or the beauty blueprint, to engender insecurity in the male population.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, one study found that men diagnosed with MDM were more likely to develop depression, have a poor quality of life, have substance abuse problems, and ultimately may attempt suicide.
Treatment options are limited in this developing field. Addressing shame, depression, social avoidance and body image concerns through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been shown to help. However, the research is clear. In order for sufferers to find relief from MDM, they will need to normalize self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.
The fitness and fashion industry push the beauty blueprint on both men and women alike. We need to recognize the powerful influence this has on the most vulnerable of us, and actively work to end it. Cease and desist purchasing their mags and adapting new affirmations in the mirror is a good place to start.