Men and Body Dysmorphia

Emily M.

Why is it that men and body image issues are never discussed? Is it because there is a taboo against it?  A stigma that it is a girls-only problem?  Will the man look weak or too sensitive?

From an early age men are taught that they should be the big, strong protector that will ride up on their white stallion slaying the bad guy to win the girl just like in the fairy tales.  Superhero costumes can send the same message, just a cute and fun costume for young boys or sending a deeper message saying men should strive to have a perfect physique, thin build, and big muscles.

Are men suffering in silence because they think that men should not have a body image disorder?  Is it women’s fault that men are staying quiet about their body dysmorphia?  Women have always spoken about the tall, macho man protector; like the hunter in the Palaeolithic age.  Does this make it women’s fault that men’s issues are being overlooked or dismissed?

Men who suffer from body image issues may: combat steroid use, be exercise dependent which leads to overtraining and increased injury, entertain ambiguous “fad” diets, immerse themselves in their sorrows, and/or seek refuge from public events and social gatherings.

In a book called Shattered Image: My Triumph over Body Dysmorphic Disorder, author Brian Cuban spoke about how he has suffered from body image issues since he was a child. He explains, “my mother used to say, ‘hey you dumb bunny, you eat too much'”.  This played a huge role in leading to Cuban believing he was that he was fat and stupid.  Cuban goes on to talk about how there are not many resources out there for men who suffer from body image disorders which reinforces the stigma that this is a “girl-only” problem.  One place that does focus their attention on suffering men is in Austin, Texas called Cedar Springs Austin.  Brad Kennington is the executive director and COO there and he says that those who are most vulnerable are: men who are constantly checking themselves in the mirror or weighing themselves, those who count their calories or over exercising, athletes, and gay and bi-sexual male teens.  In a recent article, Daniel Armbruster says, “While it is a topic most guys want to avoid, we were able to find a few on the UT [University of Texas] campus who would admit they probably know someone struggling with body dysmorphia. Both Kennington and Cuban say more guys must come out and share their stories if society is going to change its attitude on men with body dysmorphia” (Nov. 7, 2013).

Research done by Aaron Blashill and the American Psychological Association found that male teens who perceive themselves as too thin or too fat when they are actually at a healthy weight are more likely to develop depression.  They also found that those boys who believed they were underweight are bullied more often and most likely to turn to steroid use.  Blashill says there is little evidence-based research on effective therapy for steroid use, but also says that cognitive-behavioural therapy has been proven effective for body image and he recommends therapists to keep a mindful eye on possible steroid use.

Some statistics that I found from a study out of the University of the West of England from 2012 indicate that more than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body compared with the 75% of women that speak negatively about their body.

  • 38% of men said they would sacrifice at least a year of their lives in exchange for a “perfect body” which was again higher than women.
  • 30% have heard someone refer to their “beer belly”
  • 19% have been described as “chubby” and 19% have overheard talk about their “man boobs (moobs)”.
  • 23% said concerns about their appearance had deterred them from going to the gym.
  • 63% thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough.
  • 29% thought about their appearance at least five times a day.
  • 18% were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16% on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down.

To me it is clear that something needs to be done about the growing rate of men’s body image issues and that we need to realize that this is not just a female issue as most would think.  Parents of those with young boys should encourage them to look beyond what they see on the outside and to learn to love themselves for who they are.

Further Reading:

Why Men Never Discuss Body Image Issues


4 responses

  1. This post is very interesting Emily! Personally, since I have been able to drive to the gym its been one of my hobbies. Many friends and myself now look back and didn’t have a very athletic body image as high school students. This memory is great motivation to work hard in the gym these days. But that is all it is, the issue stops there, simple motivation. It is easy to understand though how males issues with body image and bullying can lead to overtraining and steroid use.

    The mirror can be a gym rats best friend or worst enemy, leading to narcissistic tendencies. You always want to improve. I find the research about steroid use interesting! Personally, I am dead against any performance enhancing drugs, or steroids, but It is easy to understand how somebody could become blind to the terrible side effects that come with these drugs, simply seeking the immediate benefits from PEDs and steroids which provide this sought improved body image.

    Todays discussion in class (Feb 18th) touched on this. Guys are always looking around the gym. “Whos bigger? Whos Stronger? Whats that guys secret? etc” We (guys) judge and self evaluate too.

    Just my own personal spin,

    Thanks Emily!

    Andrew Connors

  2. Sarah Mazerolle
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post Emily; you definitely raised some great points! I find too often that men are treated like they do not have or should not have body image issues. In one of my classes it was said “women tend to have more body image issues than men”. But is this true or is it just that men’s issues are being ignored or not expressed due to it being seen as an “unmanly” behavior? As Andrew said, and as we discussed in class, men compare themselves to other men as well and feel the need to be more muscular, slimmer, stronger, etc. I overheard a patron at the gym say “I need to stay big”, so rather than working out to stay healthy, he just wants to stay big. Women I find generally say they want to lose weight to look good in a bikini, again not for health.
    I often hear men picking on men for the way their body looks, and these men (even the one being picked on) act like this behavior is normal. Sometimes I will tell a person to leave a guy alone, he is perfect the way he is, and both parties act like it is normal and okay to act this way, but when it happens to a woman there is a whole line of support to stop this negative behavior. Even if the men act like the behavior is okay, the emotional damage is still present, sometimes the man being picked on will work out harder to get the body he thinks he should have or sometimes he will give up believing he will never get there. One of my male friends has this problem and he will let his friends pick on his weight constantly saying it’s not a big deal, he used to be the “skinny one” but when his friends are not around picking on him he will express how bad he feels about his body, and he is already healthy and getting in shape.
    Body image issues are created when, as you said, parents pick on their children rather than encourage them, but it also happens because of the media stressing for us to look a certain way that even the models in the pictures don’t look like. ( ) Children and adults need to learn to love themselves for who they are, we all need to learn that our health is important but we do not need to be a size 0 and our muscles do not need to be as big as a basketball. On a gender view however we need to learn to encourage men just as much as we encourage women and not treat any issue as only one gender specific, you wouldn’t treat a cold for a man or a woman differently so why do we treat everything else differently?

  3. Hi Emily! This is a great read. I know personally I have struggled a lot with body image and my own self perception and as a woman there are many avenues for support and it is a more acceptable issue to have. I never had any experience with men and body image problems until I started dating my boyfriend. He isn’t unhappy or ashamed of his body by any means but the lengths that he goes through in order to maintain his physique and appearance is out of this world! I know he is very body conscious for his health but as our relationship has progressed I have come to learn that he is also very concerned with maintaining his appearance. Although he never ever makes me feel like I am inadequate physically (quite the opposite really – he builds my confidence daily) his obsession with health and appearance sort of translates to me indirectly…. Similar to the conversation we had in class about the media’s portrayal of the perfect male and female and how that dynamic is driven by the vision of creating the “perfect” heterosexual couple (if you are heterosexual). I think my boyfriend would relate to Andrew’s post… he uses negative self perception for motivation but hasn’t developed any further negative feelings about it. It is easy to see how the pressure that men may often feel can lead towards a development of more serious psychological problems or body dysmorphia. With all of the overt media pressure on women it is sometimes easy to forget about the pressure placed on our male counterparts – something I will do my best to not forget any time soon.

    Thanks for the great post!


  4. Thanks for sharing this article. I have this feeling that valuing appearances and first impressions are significantly overvalued in America. If you’re too short, Asian, too skinny chances are your dating chances are significantly reduced. I guess it depends where you are. So I ask the same question as you. How much do women reinforce this problem? I used to think women are the ‘better sex’ but they seem to fuss over men’s physical appearance and race a fair bit (I don’t know how much though). Also co-ordination, fast reflexes, skill and strength. How much importance do displaying these traits have in the dating world for men? There were times in my life I was paranoid about appearing less skilled or less strong in front of other guys and girls and I desperately denied such weaknesses and had crippling resentment when I had a sense that I was not genetically gifted with the physical traits needed at that moment(I’m from Australia, which is also a big sporting culture) so I can relate to this issue. So it’s not a primary skill of mine, but even so I’m quite stubborn in creating a martial/athletic existence for myself but now I have modified my attitude and approach. I don’t demand such big expectations anymore and I do HEMA (Hisorical fencing with swords and what not) which is more suitable for my size anyway, although whether I’m genetically made to be an athlete/martial artist is still a burning question in my mind, even though it shouldn’t be. Because in the end getting somewhere faster is not the goal. Persisitance, enjoyment and hard work should be respected more. And yet it’s still uncomfortable to think about.

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