Bigorexia – A modern body image issue for men

Bigorexia – A modern body image issue for men

It is well known that the images of thin beautiful women that abound in the media have a negative impact on women. Many develop eating disorders as they try to emulate the images that they are constantly bombarded with. We never seem to hear, however, of how the same pressures impact upon men.

The media, magazines and movies are full of images of buff ripped guys with six pack abs.

From almost every angle we are sold the story that a masculine image is the ideal that the world expects us to be, the look that women find appealing, and a mark of being popular and successful.

The effects of this can be seen in the growing trend of men joining the gym and working out with the ambition of gaining size and shape, pushing their body to extremes in order to achieve the perfect male body image. For many this ambition can quickly develop into an obsession.

It has become so prevalent amongst men there is now a term to describe it: Bigorexia.

Bigorexia is a common term for the condition muscle dysmorphia which is marked by an obsession with the size and shape of the body, constant working out, weightlifting and use of supplements or steroids to "bulk up."

Unfortunately this pressure, especially on young men to look a certain way, has led to an increase in self-prescribed steroid abuse. This trend is alarming as the use of steroids has many side-effects. The drugs are often obtained on the black market so there is no real way of knowing what you are actually injecting into your body.

Bigorexia can start quickly or it can develop over time and can include psychological symptoms such as irritability, angry outbursts, depression and sometimes mania.

What we really need to stop and ask ourselves is: why do men develop bigorexia?

Could it be because life has become about the way we look and not about who we truly are? Could it be that the masculine ideal that we are sold tells us that we are not enough the way we are, leaving men feeling lesser, rejected, insecure or hurt? Do we then seek something like weightlifting so we do not have to feel these hurts?

  • Some guys will say they are motivated to attract a sexual partner. However, this is often coming from the position that they are not enough the way they are (feeling lesser), and need to become more to live up to some ideal in order to attract a partner.

  • Some men are motivated by their competitive nature, always trying to beat and outdo others – the typical alpha male. Is this not also coming from an insecurity of believing they are not enough and constantly needing to prove themselves?

  • Other men will admit they are motivated as a form of physical protection; usually guys who have been bullied who want to gain size to intimidate potential bullies to ‘back off’ and leave them alone.

Digging a little deeper, could it be used to protect any emotional hurts, as the large physical size signals others to back off and not get too close? Do we build up our bodies to keep everyone at a safe distance emotionally so as not to be exposed or trigger any hurts? These hurts could include anything from rejection issues, lack of self-worth, feelings of inadequacy or insecurity – to name but a few.

Would it not be easier for us men to be honest with ourselves and feel our hurts rather than bury them deep down?

If we did so, perhaps we would no longer need to be so obsessed with our physical body image, which in truth serves to shut others out and imprison us behind a wall of protection and isolation.

This only keeps us further away from the love and tenderness and connection with others we all truly seek.

  • By Michael Serafin