The first word that came to my mind when I saw Kevin Cole at the gym was ‘big’. He had big muscular arms with veins popping out of his skin, a big chest and big formed abs. His shoulders and biceps were much larger as compared to an average 26 year old with a wide, well-defined back, as hard as a rock. Regardless of being twice as big and wide as most of the guys at the gym, when I asked Kevin how he felt about his body, he claimed. “I want to be the biggest and the strongest version of myself and I’m not even halfway there yet.”
When it comes to ‘getting in shape’, ‘toned’ or working out for the ultimate body, Kevin isn’t the only one. With every passing day, these ideas are conquering the minds of not only adolescents in the society but also grown up adults. In the recent past, gym culture is becoming an integral part of people’s lives. The statistics show that about 47% of young adolescents engage in physical activity in or out of the gym on a regular basis (Ahmad, 2015). While a healthier lifestyle is definitely desirable, a major concern arises when quest for the so-called ideal body shape leads to a disturbing new body-image disorder, commonly known as ‘bigorexia’.
What is Bigorexia?
A variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), also known as Muscle Dysmorphia, is the opposite of Anorexia (Griffiths, 2015). While anorexics are of the belief that they are too fat when in reality they are too thin, bigorexics on the other hand, think of themselves as small when, in fact, they are muscular. People with muscle dysmorphia often try to deal with their perceived smallness by lifting heavy weights, doing power training compulsively, sometimes even twice a day and consuming a big number of calories on a daily basis. The energy for such high intensity workouts comes from food and artificially produced and consumed using supplements that include protein shakes, BCAA’s, Creatine powders and other Amino Acids, all labeled as ‘Optimum Nutrition’ options that in reality possess lethal consequences (Griffiths, 2015). Yet Kevin and many other people like him in the gym are mostly seen carrying a plastic gym bottle, sipping on it time to time.
Source: Google Images
Does social media play a role in the rise of Bigorexia?
Ever since the internet was introduced, many elements in the networked society have evolved to form what is now called the ‘era of hyper-connectivity’. Allowing an opportunity for people around the world to not only share personal images and videos but also what they do, how they do it and what they feel. Living in today’s world is nothing like it was in the pre-internet period, where the only “perfect body” images people ever laid eyes on were either in television or in copies of Playboy. The way people interact, interpret and consume media has entirely changed. Compared to TV media, interactive media is a whole new ballgame where people are exposed to vast amounts of data and media from people all over the world.
So…. When it comes to the role of social media in the rise of issues like bigorexia, the media MAY play its part in stemming feelings of dissatisfaction towards our bodies, but in my opinion, the fact that the problem of body dissatisfaction occurs from being exposed to content online directly leads to issues like eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia, sounds pretty overrated. The real problem here can be potentially be outlined as the lack of ability to differentiate between real and fake news, bad and good eating habits or also having an obsession of achieving a low body fat percentage while gaining muscle weight that contributes in the development of eating disorders.
A study by David Tod, Christian Ed and Leuan Cranswick; professors at Liverpool University in 1993, stated that 10% of UK gym members experienced muscle dysmorphia although the exact reasons that caused such a disorder were unknown, however, it was assumed that anorexia and bigorexia, both were developed due to psychological, environmental and social factors (David, 2016). The figure stated above is evidence to the fact that the issue of eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia exists long before social media came to light. The study however also concluded that some psychological tendencies grow irrespective of exposure to the outside world, such feelings cultivated within the people’s minds due to an increasing passion towards an activity. During a conversation with Kevin, he claimed that the social circle he had, all valued having a well-toned body, with big muscles, eating A LOT of food (emphasized) and going to the gym on a regular basis in groups was their thing to do. He also mentioned that consuming supplements about 3 times a day was pretty normal for people his size. Don’t you think this is some serious societal pressure?
Source: Google Image
What do fitness applications or media portray?
- The idea of an ideal body through carefully crafted images and videos.
An article published under ‘Time health’ states that there are approximately 6700 fitness applications over Apple’s and Android’s software. A significant number of applications out of this number, probably more than half, operate under one goal; maximizing profit. This is done by mostly displaying images and videos of muscular guys like Kevin, specifically with the intention of either selling a product, a workout plan or any service they might be offering. A number of applications that promote physicality include Shortcut2Shred, LivingLarge and CharlieMike (www.bodybuilding.com). Such applications create a sense of comparison in the minds of people, where they start imaging themselves through other people’s body instead of focusing on what a healthy body looks like for themselves. Most applications are designed using crafted and edited content or promotions in order to attract user’s attention. This comparison in the long run turns into a rat-race at first, eventually developing into an addiction where lifting heavy weights, power training and excessive eating starts feeling like a ‘high’. Self-realization and defining a sense of purpose are the most crucial elements for people that fall under this category.
- The idea of a quantified self to achieve individual goals.
Quantified self is a concept that uses numerical figures and set data to reflect, learn, remember and work towards improvement. This relatively new idea is set to change the sense of the world, attempting to provide a better more comprehensive way to understand and achieve bodily goals. The entire idea of a quantified self is based on self-system, self-discovery, self-improvement, self-awareness and self-knowledge. Surprisingly there are many fitness applications that base their entire application model on the concept of the quantified self, providing levels of workout plans according to an individual’s body type and ability. Some of these applications include MyFitnessPal, BodySpace and FitnessBuddy. These applications provide a perfect platform for people who are either trying to lose weight, gain weight or just in general increasing stamina or strength and is also the best way to make sure that users are not exceeding their potential or harming themselves while performing workouts.
- Providing healthy and tasty diet plans.
The third half of the applications mostly focus on planning out a dietary schedule for people with busy lives or maybe a disability. Many people are of the belief that abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym, so having a strict diet can also help achieve goals in terms of weight and size. But successful diet planning also relies on skills such as nutrition knowledge, understanding food labels, portion control and calorie awareness. Applications like MyPlate, MyFitnessPal and HealthyOut combine all the knowledge and information on nutrition and provides a platform that encourages users to track their food on a daily basis, get additional support if needed, get access to easy recipes and avoid stress eating.
Stories of happy people!
The high rate of social media integration into people’s lives has made it possible for applications and media to reach users on a very personal and an interactive level. Just like the rest, some aspects of this technology possess a potential to be highly misinterpreted too in terms of its use. This is why it is important to have a clear sense of not only the boundaries, proper and adequate knowledge, professional supervision, a regular visit to the doctor who makes sure your body is coping up with the workouts in an efficient way but also a very sharp ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Having free access to such vast amounts of information and not being able to effectively comprehend that information can trap individuals in a sea of self-criticism.
However, in my opinion, the only aspect of media that plays a role in the rise of bigorexia is being exposed to an endless stream of ab shots, flexed muscles and plank times right in your face for self-comparison. When engaging with media, it is important to keep in mind that every individual has a different body structure with different outcomes to similar exercises. In order to use fitness applications and making safe use of it, it is very essential for individuals to be media literate and choose platforms that provide a realistic approach to achieving your goals. Most realistic goals are quantifiable and measurable using different body scales like Body Mass Index, Body Fat Percentage, weight and height (Lupton, 2015).
To end my article, I want to stress upon the fact the bigorexia is serious, it has the potential to damage a human body and brain even leading to death. In our society, Muscle Dysmorphia is being thrown around so loosely as to imply that every individual who wants to get in shape by either losing weight or gaining weight is said to a psychological disorder. This in my opinion is very irresponsible, illogical and also very demoralizing, because there is a big number people out there who have changed their life for the good. People with serious medical conditions due to obesity, people with depression, people suffering from anorexia feel that without the constant support and guidance from these media outlets it would’ve been impossible to achieve their goals.
THE GOAL IS NOT TO BE IN GOOD SHAPE BUT GOOD HEALTH. 🙂
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