Is it possible that men are becoming too muscular and too big? Is it even healthy? Does it take a lot of effort to achieve this look?
It has come to my attention that women are not the only ones who are suffering from body dissatisfaction, but males are—and it is taking a toll on their health. We need to understand whether bodybuilders’ bodies are real or fake and the effects it has on a persons’ health. The media has been a huge influence on how men perceive themselves based on the fitspo on the social media platforms. In this case, “images of male beauty as defined by the muscular ideal” (Jonason, P. K. et al., 2009)— the amount of muscularity a man has defines his beauty and acceptance in society. This illness is called muscle dysmorphia also known as bigorexia—the complete opposite of anorexia. The problem is, men are becoming too concerned with developing muscle mass and it has taken a toll on their daily lives which then becomes an unhealthy obsession. As Gill (2017) says, “they don’t see their own muscle mass; they believe they’re small or undefined”. People suffering from bigorexia are hard on themselves as they monitor their diet and are strict with their workouts. They are active citizens by regulating themselves on certain foods.
The Media Affects Men
Bigorexia allows men to become active citizens to take care of their bodies, and Instagram is a panopticon that makes men feel motivated to work out harder because they feel they are not big enough. Instagram allows citizen to “engage not only in self-tracking their own behaviors but are continually surveilled by the digital technologies with which they routinely interact and the sensor embedded environments in which they move about, their bodies and behaviors are digitized” (Lupton, 2014). When there are so many athletic males on Instagram, it makes it harder for males to embrace their true bodies because they are constantly comparing themselves to the men on their technologies or at the gym where they feel as though they need to be better—this is due to biopolitics. Biopolitics makes an individual feel ashamed of their own bodies because it is not ideal to what is in the media. In addition, a better looking physique, means a better life in general; when it comes to relationships, jobs, life etc. Instagram is the definition of fitspo because it does not tell people to eat healthy, but to look good, and according to Wang (2010), “the media can contribute to adolescents’ and college students’ body dissatisfaction, they do not necessarily advocate obtaining and attractive body by engaging in unhealthy dieting or steroid use” —people consume based on appearances, similar to the photos and gadgets advertised on Instagram. Social media like Instagram, is one of the many reasons why bigorexia is so prominent in males today because society creates a false representation on what the ideal body should be and it makes it harder for males to catch up to those ideals.
Nowadays, the media causes pressure among many men to look muscular. It makes it harder for men to accept their bodies the way it is without feeling ashamed. For instance, if you search up “Male Models” on Instagram, all the models with a v-shaped body and a six pack that is to die for—obviously when you suffer from MD it is much harder to not be so engrossed in other peoples’ lives, especially when we live in a social-media era.
More About Steroids
What if I told you that bodybuilding is not natural and all of those men on social media are just false advertising their “hard-earned” bodies. Those bulging muscles and muscular bodies that automatically make heads turn. Yes, the first step is to acknowledge that these men suffer from muscle dysmorphia (MD) and it leads to insecurities of body dissatisfaction—which can result to other methods like steroids. Others may look in admiration and say, “wow, I wish I had his body” but to the individual, it is not enough. You may think these guys are shining with confidence, but it is the complete opposite—they are suffering from a condition that is detrimental to their mind and body. When big is not enough, they resort to options like anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS),
“AAS use has become more prevalent among nonathletes seeking to enhance their body image, a phenomenon linked to low self-esteem and a distorted sense of body image, known in its extreme form as muscle dysmorphia” (Melki et al., 2014).
It is the fastest and easiest way to gain muscle mass and definition, while boosting a persons’ self-esteem—a short-term cure to MD. However, the amount of steroids used can be dangerous as it can lead to death. Oli Loyne was an avid steroid abuser suffering from MD and died after a third heart attack at 20 (Gibbons, 2016). The use of steroids may cause the opposite of what it intends to do such as worsen a relationship, cause depression, and even suicide.
‘I was unhappy; I didn’t have peace in my life,’ he recalls. ‘I was not dealing with my problem and I tried to take my own life. I was in a really dark place.’ (Gibbons, 2016)
‘the world automatically rewards people who look good’ (Mckeon, 2014)
Speaking of steroids, an interesting way to understand whether these bodies are “real” is to look at the spectacle of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The UFC hosts amazing athletes with big, muscular bodies that many men envy. You know UFC heavyweight Brock Lesnar? He failed the anti-doping program and used a banned substance called the clomiphene for his match at the UFC 200 event, “clomiphene is an anti-estrogen agent that is typically used after a cycle of steroids to prevent many of the side effects that come along with the performance-enhancing drug” (Martin, 2016). It was quite the debate because it was a huge fight that got lots of paper-views, and the UFC is very strict on doping so it was a surprise that Brock Lesnar was able to compete. Moral of the story is that many men use steroids and even athletes; just so they can keep up with their appearance of a muscular build and to maintain their endurance, “AAS have been used in sports since the 1950s, predominantly in bodybuilding to increase muscle mass, strength, performance, and resistance to fatigue” (Melki et al., 2014). Even athletes feel pressured to strengthen their performance.
Stigma On Masculinity
The problem is not how big, but how badly MD affects mental health. Men who suffer from MD understand their condition and know it is a problem because it affects them daily. Masculinity is stigmatized and speaking about MD is not common because it is often women, who have body insecurities; as a result, men who suffer from body disorders are mute to these problems. Muscle dysmorphia is an issue that is not often spoken about and it is hard for men to speak about their condition without feeling vulnerable. The idea that men are unable to talk about body dissatisfaction is stigmatized because they are supposed to be “manly”, not insecure. Men are expected to “perform hyper masculine activities as a means of confirming and defining their own maleness” (Jackson,2014). As a result, men want to be big and strong to conform to these ideologies embodied in society. The ideology of “male musculature stands for the embodiment of strength, powerfulness and domination. The display of muscles is further reinforcing the sense of masculinity as hardness” (Kluch, 2015) is a result of MD and how men overwork themselves towards a muscular physique because the bigger the muscles, the manlier an individual is. Heavy lifting is known to be a performative sport and it is “constructed as men-only activities in which the strength, determination, courage and fitness of a ‘true man’” (Glapka, 2018). Building muscle defines a man’s masculinity because of the appearance of muscles. Therefore, men who suffer from MD strive to be larger. Pradeep Bala is a victim suffering from MD and knows he has this condition,
‘I have high expectations for myself. You get so obsessed by the thought of eating, sleeping, and training. I want perfection’ (BBC News, 2015)
It is frightening that these men understand their condition and the effects it has on their life. There is not enough talk about mental illness among men and muscle dysmorphia—this makes it difficult for men to feel comfortable with their condition of seeking help. It is a mental illness that causes men to be vulnerable to their masculinity. MD is an unhealthy obsession where it is hard to stop because they are so concerned with their body,
‘they too can look you in the eye and tell you that they’re small, even though they’re huge’ (Mckeon, 2014)
Bigorexia is extreme because you are constantly overworking your body and being overly consumed with your physical appearance. It gets to the point where men undervalue themselves and it affects their health. This obsession may look great, but is it really beneficial for their well-being of wanting to achieve more? Bigorexia allows people to make goals for themselves and to be active citizens for self-care; but it is emotionally and mentally unstable. These bodybuilders cannot control their behaviors because they have no control over their bodies. If there was more awareness towards muscle dysmorphia among men, it would help lessen the stigma around masculinity and mental illness, what do you think?
BBC News. (2015, September 27). ‘Bigorexia’: Muscle dysmorphia ‘now affects one in 10 gym-going men’ – BBC News [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=VqJpDS8F6hk
Fitness and Power. (n.d.). Do You Suffer From Muscle Dysmorphia? [image]. Retrieved from http://www.fitnessandpower.com/training/bodybuilding-misc/muscle-dysmorphia
Martin, Damon. (2016, October 20). Brock Lesnar temporarily suspended, commission reveals drug test results. Retrieved from https://www.foxsports.com/ufc/story/brock-lesnartemporarily-suspended-commission-reveals-drug-test-results-082316
Gill, J. (2017, April 28). ‘Bigorexia? Is Plaguing the Bodybuilding Community. Retrieved from https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/vvaq3y/bodybuilders-have-their-own-version-of-anorexia
GIPHY. (2016, July 20). Muscles GIF by Bodybuilding.com – Find & Share on GIPHY [Video file]. Retrieved from https://giphy.com/gifs/bodybuildingcom-l0HlMQIj3zbA5oyxG
Gibbons, S. (2016, January 1). The dangerous world of bigorexia [Video file]. Retrieved from https://fridaymagazine.ae/health/the-dangerous-world-of-bigorexia-1.1645830
Glapka, E. (2018). Masculinity in Media Consumption: Readers’ Positioning to the Discourse of a Men’s Magazine. Gender under Construction , 94, 1-27. doi:10.1163/9789004365056_003
Inquisitr. (2017, January 2). WWE News: Brock Lesnar Steroids Arrest Brought To Light By Jim Cornette [image]. Retrieved from https://www.inquisitr.com/3847829/wwe-news-brock-lesnar-steroids-arrest-brought-to-light-by-jim-cornette/
Jonason, P. K., Krcmar, M., & Sohn, S. (2009). Male Body Image: The Role of Muscle Magazine Exposure, Body Mass Index, and Social Comparison in Men’s Body Satisfaction. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 37(5), 627-629.doi:10.2224/sbp.2009.37.5.627
Jackson, S. (2013). Globalization, corporate nationalism and masculinity in Canada: sport, Molson beer advertising and consumer citizenship. Sport in Society, 17(7), 901-916. doi:10.1080/17430437.2013.806039
Kluch, Y. (2015). ‘The man your man should be like’: Consumerism, patriarchy and the construction of twenty-first-century masculinities in 2010 and 2012 Old Spice campaigns. Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture, 6(3), 361-377.doi:10.1386/iscc.6.3.361_1
Lupton, D. (2014). Health promotion in the digital era: a critical commentary. Health Promotion International, 30(1), 174-183. doi:10.1093/heapro/dau091
Melki, J. P., Hitti, E. A., Oghia, M. J., & Mufarrij, A. A. (2014). Media Exposure, Mediated Social Comparison to Idealized Images of Muscularity, and Anabolic Steroid Use. Health Communication, 30(5), 473-484. doi:10.1080/10410236.2013.867007
McKeon, G. (2014, March 17). Bigorexia: young men, body image and steroids. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/men-body-image-steroids/5306494
Pixabay. (2015). [image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/media-social-media-apps-998990/
Wang, X. (2010). More Than Just Anorexia and Steroid Abuse: Effects of Media Exposure on Attitudes Toward Body Image and Self-Efficacy. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 18(1), 50-62. doi:10.1080/15456870903210089
The Rock Working Out [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.wrestlinginc.com/wi/photos/2014/2754/photo-the-rock-working-out/