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Body Dysmorphic Disorder: A Struggle For Men Too

Article contributed by: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator @ Eating Disorder Hope

“Despite the fact that BDD [body dysmorphic disorder] affects males and females equally, males still face the stigma of it being seen as a ‘woman’s disorder’. This can cause overwhelming shame that will often result in the reluctance to seek treatment.” – Brian Cuban, advocate and author of Shattered Image, My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

While greater attention is being garnered towards men who are struggling with eating disorders, disarray still exists in our society about the issues men may be susceptible to facing.  Body image concerns are largely thought to be issues that women deal with.  However, if you look closely at the messages that are projected throughout our culture and media, it is easy to identify that men are also held to unrealistic body image standards.

Research has unveiled the startling number of men who struggle with body image dissatisfaction, crushing the myth that poor body image is only a problem for women.  One such study has found that the percentage of men dissatisfied with their overall appearance has nearly tripled in the past 25 years, making the number of men who are unhappy with their body or appearance almost equal to that of their female counterpart [1].

Even more concerning than poor body image among men is the development of Body Dysmophic Disorder (BDD), a psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with imaginary defects in their appearance [2].  Men or women who develop BDD will often obsess relentlessly over their appearance and develop a poor body image by perceiving flaws that can severely handicap ability to function on a day-to-day basis.  Body dysmorphic disorder is a serious disorder that can result in many emotional, psychological, and social consequences, such as broken relationships, poor job performance, social isolation, and depression.

More recently, “muscle dysmorphia” (or MDM) has been termed to identify a form of body dysmorphic disorder that develops almost exclusively in men.  This can be defined as a preoccupation that one’s body is inadequately muscular, too small, or “puny” [1].  Males who typically develop muscle dysmorphia are involved in sports that stress size and strength, such as bodybuilding, wrestling, or football [3].  However, the sporting fields are not the only grounds in which males can become susceptible to developing muscle dysmorphia.  Research has shown that both biological and environmental factors are involved.  Many of the photo-shopped images that saturate our culture portray men with impeccable physique, sending mixed messages to our youth across the nation.

Compulsions that may be connected with muscle dysmorphia include spending countless hours in the gym or unreasonable amounts of money on supplements, deviating eating patterns, or becoming involved with substance abuse [4].  Studies have shown that muscle dysmorphia may result in a potentially dangerous abuse of anabolic steroids, with approximately seven percent of high school boys using these types of drugs [1].

Similar to BDD, muscle dysmorphia can severely affect a person’s life and normal daily function, as it begins to influence their social commitments, emotional wellness, and physical health.   Because muscle dysmorphia is not commonly recognized, treatment is not widely sought.  However, if left untreated, the psychological and social consequences of muscle dysmorphia can become devastating.  Treatment methods are evolving to effectively address the concerns of muscle dysmorphia in men and include combining therapeutic and medicinal efforts.

While body dysmorphic disorder and muscle dysmorphia in men are not as widely understood as other psychological conditions, breaking the stigmas can help men seek and obtain the treatment and help they need to begin healing and overcome these disorders.

References:

[1]: Pope HG, Phillips KA, Olivardia R. The Adonis complex: the secret crisis of male body obsession. New York: Free Press; 2000.
[2]: “Body Dysmorphic Disorder”, The Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/basics/definition/con-20029953
[3]: Pope HG, Jr, Gruber AJ, Choi PYL, Olivardia R, Phillips KA. Muscle dysmorphia: an underrecognized form of body dysmorphic disorder. Psychosomatics. 1997;38:548–557. [PubMed]
[4]: James E Leone, Edward J Sedory, Kimberly A Gray. Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders J Athl Train. 2005 Oct-Dec; 40(4): 352–359.

 

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
March 17, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Information for Poor Body Image and Eating Disorders

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