Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Perspectives on Muscle Dysmorphia

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Perspectives on Muscle Dysmorphia

Article excerpt

Muscle dysmorphia as a proposed psychiatric disorder has garnered attention in the general media and within the academic and scientific communities. Yet, while several models and theories have been proposed to explain its etiology, attributing muscle dysmorphia to one causative factor remains premature (Leone et al., 2005). Baghurst (2008) recently investigated traits associated with muscle dysmorphia in groups of competitive natural bodybuilders, competitive non-natural bodybuilders, weight trainers for physique development, and college football players. This article discusses the findings of this investigation and seeks to extend our understanding by illuminating the potential impact of pharmacological agents within the context of muscle dysmorphia.

Keywords: men's health, muscle dysmorphia, body image, body satisfaction, action figures, self-esteem


The notion of an ideal human physique has featured prominently in the cultural narrative of the United States and other Western societies (Lantz, Rhea, & Mayhew, 2001). Over the last forty years, for example, the male physique has become a means of gender differentiation (Alexander, 2003; Mishkind, Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1986), with a lean, muscular physique and a mesomorphic body type increasingly portrayed as the male ideal (Petrie et al., 1996). Other studies show muscle mass as a principal characteristic used to distinguish the sexes, with males being viewed as naturally more muscular than women (Goldberg, 1997). Focus on the attainment and maintenance of such a body type, along with the perceived social rewards of having such a body, remains largely the domain of men. Consequently, there is a need to understand the role of cultural and other variables related to how the ideal male physique has come to be based largely on muscle mass (Klein, 1993; McCreary & Sasse, 2000).

The Male Body Image

Research addressing body image as it pertains to muscularity centers primarily on men. Studies indicate that men are routinely appraised by their muscularity and ability to portray signs of power (Dyer, 2002; Randall, Hall, & Rogers, 1992). Researchers have also linked a muscular male physique with power, dominance, strength, sexual virility, and self-esteem (Miskhkind, Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1986; Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000). In other words, the physical frailty often associated with femininity is diminished by maintaining a muscular physique (Wesely, 2001). This sense of physical adequacy or perhaps the fear of possessing perceived feminine traits may provide some men a sense of self-governance over areas where they feel a lesser degree of personal efficacy. A recent study by Mills and D'Alfonso (2007), for example, indicated that men who fail a cognitive task that a female successfully completes can feel worse about their appearance, less muscular, and less confident in their physical ability.

Several additional reasons may account for an overly developed focus on attaining and maintaining a strong physique. These include a sense of powerlessness and insecurity (Wesely, 2001), being bullied or teased as children, or trying to compensate for childhood illnesses (Heywood, 1997). Thus, these individuals may begin a quest that emphasizes self-control, ambition, desire, hard work, and self-achievement (Brownell, 1991). Overall, such findings lend credence to the notion that men are particularly affected by the fact that the ideal male physique has grown more muscular over the last fifty years (Goldberg, 1997).

Striving to attain a media- or culturally-driven ideal physique may lead some men to adopt strategies such as unhealthy diets and excessive exercise programs. In general, though, men who adhere to a strict diet, lift weights regularly, and exercise do not suffer from muscle dysmorphia (Maida & Armstrong, 2005). Most men exercising in gyms are realistic about their physique and exercise responsibly (Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia, & Phillips, 1997). …

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