Bigorexia: Should we be Surprised?
Posted on October 10th, 2017
Muscle dysmorphia or “bigorexia” is a disorder characterised by a pathological obsession with body fat reduction, muscle tone and a lean physique.
Like more commonly recognised eating disorders, it can result in anxiety, distress, impaired social and cognitive function, abuse of steroids, over exercise and restrictive eating tendencies.
It seems that mass media hasn’t just exacerbated the prevalence of the idealised women, but also the idealised man. Men less frequently appear in the literature surrounding body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, however there is a desperate need to move on from the idea men are immune.
Whilst women have long endured shifting beauty standards and resulting diets, regimens and pain from whalebone corsets to waist trainers, men have appeared unaffected.
Yet increasing evidence shows a greater preoccupation with body image amongst men and the NHS has seen a 70% increase in men being admitted to hospital with eating disorders in the last 6 years.
So why muscle dysmorphia?
The lastest trend to hit for both men and women, #strongnotskinny. What started out as a potentially harmless phrase has resulted in over exercise, punishing workouts, steroid abuse and dangerous diets.
Clear subtleties between men and women pertain. In women emphasis is on the importance of an hourglass figure with a Kim Kardashian ass and skinny waist. Conversely, men must focus the attention of their upper bodies building a ripped torso and vein popping biceps.
Even Obama, who bares very little resemblance to the Incredible Hulk was featured on the cover of Washingtonian magazine in 2009 all lean, bare chested and muscular alongside headline, “Our New Neighbor Is Hot”.
Thus, it’s no wonder that the mass media and its relentless diffusion of ripped ideal for both men and women has resulted in the latest branch of metal disorders, muscle dysmorphia.
Arguably, the scariest thing about this disorder, like others, is that we live in a society which values the outcome – a strong, toned, leaned physique and mastery of willpower when it comes to hitting the gym and eating “healthily”. And just like other eating disorders, it’s easy for the sufferer to mask their symptoms and they are often praised for their changing bodies.
Muscle dysmorphia, again like other eating disorders can have a humble beginning. The desire to better ourselves often in the form of a new gym membership and vow to eat a little more healthily. But despite the good intentions, why are these behaviours commonly going disastrously wrong?
In a recent Ted X talk in Sydney, Scott Griffiths a National Health and Medical Research Council Fellow at The University of Melbourne said:
“As society places increasing value on the aspects of physical appearance that can be modified through diet and exercise whether it’s body fat or muscle or some new combination there of we create the environment in which eating disorders can flourish.”
From anorexia, to orthorexia to muscle dysmorphia, we’re see pathological manifestations arise when the quest for the ideal goes dangerously wrong.
Bringing it back to muscle dysmorphia we can conclude that #fitspo and #strongnot skinny have become more loaded terms with genuine consequences.
Further, it’s no secret that the fitness industry is BIG business. Yet whilst gym memberships have soared in recent years, the amount of adults participating in team sports or clubs is comparatively low. Are we sacrificing team spirit and social exercise to achieve the lean physiques sold to us through the mass media? And moreover, there are clear moral questions to be asked in viewing the body as a profit-generating commodity. Companies and advertisers are savvy in comforting us with the promise of a better life, in a more toned body when we’re feeling low.
Until we address this obsession with the idealised body we can expect to see eating disorders flourish. Although whether one addresses this issue at the top, or with education to help people cope with the bombardment of idealised images remains in question. Regardless, we should get angry with diet culture which continues to make us feel insecure in ourselves and constantly in need of change and transformation.
To finish, if you’re a gym bunny, I’m not suggesting your lifestyle is wrong. On a personal level, I often see the gym as ‘me’ time, whereby getting in the zone lifts my spirit and helps me deal with stress. However, when the gym is based on looking a certain way or skipping a workout causes you to feel uncomfortable, there is no shame in speaking to someone or seeking the relevant help.
Lastly, it’s a real shame we’ve got to this point because whilst #fitspo clearly isn’t doing much for our mental health, there is much research that confirm the positive effects of sport in helping with anxiety, stress, depression and helping individuals overcome past traumas.
It seems yet again diet culture has corrupted something that had all the best intentions and we are currently faced with the effects. But until we take serious action, we are risking the cruel consequences of eating disorders for future generations. Let’s not let diet culture have the last laugh!
Baird, A. L., & Grieve, F. G. (2006). Exposure to male models in advertisements leads to a decrease in men’s body satisfaction. North American Journal of Psychology, 8, pp.115–122.
Baram, M. (2009) Shirtless Obama makes Washingtonian cover. Huffington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2009, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
Choate, L. H. (2005). Toward a theoretical model of women’s body image resilience. Journal of Counseling and Development, 83, pp. 320–330.
Dworkin, S. L., & Wachs, F. L. (2009). Body panic: Gender, health, and the selling of fitness. New York: New York University Press.
Griffiths, S., Mond, J., Murray, S. and Touyz, S. (2015). Positive beliefs about anorexia nervosa and muscle dysmorphia are associated with eating disorder symptomatology. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49(9), pp.812-820.
Griffiths, S. (2017) TEDxSydney, Muscle Dysmorphia – The Male Eating Disorder. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs7nKcPsAXI> [Accessed 7 October 2017].
Pope, H., Gruber, A., Choi, P., Olivardia, R. and Phillips, K. (1997). Muscle Dysmorphia: An Underrecognized Form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Psychosomatics, 38(6), pp.548-557.
Readdy, T., Cardinal, B. and Watkins, P. (2017). Muscle Dysmorphia, Gender Role Stress, and Sociocultural Influences, 82(2), pp.310-319.
The Guardian. (2017) Eating disorders in men rise by 70% in NHS figures. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/31/eating-disorders-in-men-rise-by-70-in-nhs-figures > [Accessed 7 October 2017].