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The Deal With Male Body Image




He takes one step backward to get a better view.




Last night at work, a coworker and I stood at the fitness desk and watched as a college-aged male in a compression shirt took six distinct glances in the mirror during just one rest period of his workout.

I get it, it’s nearly impossible to avoid eye contact with yourself when 2/3 of the room is covered in reflective surfaces, but six times is about five too many.

There are a ton of great resources for women out there when it comes to body image (check out Girls Gone Strong if you haven’t already), but mainstream culture seems to enjoy sweeping men’s body image issues right under the rug.

The problem is that these issues are just as prevalent in men and despite a generally heightened awareness, we haven’t made many strides in overcoming it. In fact, we might be making it worse.

If you’ve never heard of muscle dysmorphia, it is a body dysmorphic disorder characterized by a preoccupation with building muscle. Also known as reverse anorexia, it has been estimated that muscle dysmorphia affects 1 in 10 gym-going males.

And while that number may seem low, muscle dysmorphia is often just the final stop on the journey to discontent with the way your body looks. Males who suffer from muscle dysmorphia are usually consumed by their exercise and nutritional routines, while any will abandon obligations with friends, family, or their job in order to continuously work toward “perfection.”

But muscle dysmorphia isn’t in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

And the truth: a preoccupation with gaining muscle never has been and never will be the only issue that we must deal with when it comes to male self-image.

Some might call it the Adonis Complex. While the Adonis Complex is far further from being included in the DSM, it is a much broader term to describe male body image issues. Adonis was a Greek god and he was ridiculously good-looking, like sixteenth-century ultimate male physique good-looking.

Today he’d probably have a dad bod, but I digress.

The Adonis Complex encompasses a flurry of body image issues and muscle size isn’t the only one. Today, men want to be lean, tall, tan, and have an amount of muscle on their frame that is pleasant to look at. Add in things like hair style, fashion, and a chiseled jaw line and we have the makings of a real self-confidence issue.

So we, as a society, have decided to do something about this. We have built and perfected mobile phone applications that allow us to carefully craft an image of ourselves that other people we like. We’re making it worse.

We only post the PRs, the perfect meals, the brand new purchases. We only post pictures of ourselves when the light hits us in just the right way to hide that feature about ourselves that we aren’t proud of.

But don’t worry because along with those selfies, we started adding hashtags like #StrongIsTheNewSkinny and #Dedication to motivate others to achieve their goals.

Really? That’s the best we can do?

Since we’ve decided that strong is the new skinny, strong is the new objective. If we decide that fitness goals aren’t for us, we’ll post about our new car, new job, and new girlfriend with the hashtags #Blessed and #DreamBig. But all of these efforts are missing the point.

Adonis Complex, muscle dysmorphia, and male body image issues in general are just symptoms of a broader issue that cannot be addressed with Instagram. It’s not just body image. It’s self-image.

Self-image is literally how you perceive yourself. And that’s where we’ve got it all wrong. You can’t craft your self-image on Instagram. Your Facebook statuses might convince others that you’re successful/great/awesome/insert-positive-word-here, but it won’t help you convince yourself.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow described two types of self-esteem in his hierarchy of human needs: lower and higher. The lower version of self-esteem is the need for respect from others. The lower version is Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The lower version is pictures of vacations and brand new cars.

The higher version is self-respect, self-image, self-confidence. And Maslow clearly outlines that self-image is more important than your image to others. Without self-respect, you become weak and helpless.

And there’s only one way to craft a better image of yourself for yourself and it’s not with more money, a better job, or bigger arms. The only way to craft a better image of yourself is to literally be a better, stronger, more capable person.

You need to wake up every morning with only two intentions: to find some way to grow as a person and to make somebody else’s day better. If you don’t, you might as well just roll over and go back to sleep.

Here’s the secret: nobody is okay. Read this. Body image issues aren’t just for women anymore and they aren’t just for your body. Remember:

You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.

You aren’t your arms, your ab veins, or your back muscles in just the right lighting. Nobody cares if you’re wealthy and #shredded if you’re an asshole.

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