By Hina Navin, Freelance Writer for GULF NEWSPublished: June 06, 2008, 00:12
Mirror, mirror on the wall once worried women, but today it has become everyone’s call… including men.
If the extra centimetres around your belly keep you up at night, if you devote two hours a day to toning your biceps and you’re desperately unhappy because your six-pack is not an eight-pack, then you may be part of a fraternity of men that suffers from muscle dysmorphia – an obsession with what men perceive (often inaccurately) as the underdevelopment of their bodies.
Understanding muscle dysmorphia
“Adonis Complex, technically known as muscle dysmorphia, is not a formal diagnosis. It is a type of body dysmorphic disorder, or a preoccupation of thought with a slight or imagined defect in appearance,” says Maya Fleifel Sidani, clinical psychologist at Dubai’s Human Relations Institute.
“There is another and equally interesting side to muscle dysmorphia. It refers to all types of body image preoccupation in boys and men. Some boys and men worry that they are not muscular enough; others worry that they are not lean enough and still others worry that they have some unattractive feature, like their hair or facial features. All of these worries represent different forms of the Adonis Complex.”
How severe can it get?
“Men’s body image concerns range from minor annoyances to serious and sometimes life-threatening obsessions. They can present manageable dissatisfaction at one end of the spectrum to extreme psychiatric body image disorders.
Men who find themselves caught up in these obsessions may find life spiralling out of control. Their lives are often dramatically affected, jeopardising careers as well as relationships with friends and loved ones,” she explains.
In a drive to achieve their goals, some men compulsively pump iron and monitor minute changes in their body composition. Other men may take steroids or muscle-building drugs, despite a catalogue of potential health risks.
Media as an influence
“Adonis was a figure of Greek mythology. He was said to be half man and half deity, and was considered the ultimate in masculine beauty. An Adonis body, according to 16th-century perspectives, was representative of the ultimate in male physique.
The myth goes that Adonis was so beautiful in physique that he won the love of Aphrodite, queen of all deities,” says Maya.
The media has a strong hold on people’s lives. The modern Adonis – extremely fit, muscled men with washboard abs, silky skin and rippling biceps and triceps – can sell everything from branded perfume to accessories.
These muscled hunks can be seen around the city on billboards, on television and in magazines.
Like women, men are driven by the same insecurities when faced with media portrayals of the handsome hunks, and the changed attitude of women adds to their anxiety. “The development of the Adonis Complex shows that men are being targeted as vigorously as women have been for decades,” says Maya.
“The image of the ‘good man’ is related to the protector and the breadwinner. Muscles are a sign of his strength. In addition, the media associates beauty in men with muscularity, and it is a natural phenomenon to like what is beautiful. Therefore muscularity is associated with masculinity.”
Recognise your obsession
Harrison Pope, Katharine Phillips and Roberto Olivardia reveal the hidden signs and symptoms of the male obsession in their book The Adonis Complex.
According to the three American experts, men struggle with the same enormous pressure to achieve physical perfection that women have dealt with for centuries.
From compulsive weightlifting to steroid use and hair plugs to cosmetic surgery, growing numbers of men are taking the quest for perfect muscles, skin, and hair too far – crossing the line from normal interest to pathological obsession.
The new obsession with appearance can afflict men of all ages and all occupations, and in more severe forms it poses a health threat that is as deadly as eating disorders are for women.
“If your self-esteem depends entirely on your appearance, and your exercise regime disrupts your social and working life, then you may be suffering from a body image disorder. Engaging in dangerous practices like fasting, dehydration and steroid use are red flags that the pursuit of muscularity has become excessive.
At its most extreme, this is known as muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia,” Maya explains.
Dangers of this obsession
Men are under pressure: both the pressure they impose on themselves, and the pressure exerted on them by their peers or partner. This makes them set unrealistic goals for themselves and they end up doing more harm to themselves than good.
Some men even lie to their partners about their fitness routine or exaggerate the weightlifting capacity and their actual weight in order to impress their mates. Their obsession becomes their compulsive routine, which they follow without understanding the side effects they may be facing on their mental and physical health.
“Each person has a different capacity for exercise that depends on his fitness level. Too much exercise leads to muscle fatigue, injuries to muscles and joints, stagnation of performance, a lack of sleep and other health problems. My advice to everyone is that pre-screening tests be done before starting a new exercise regime so that you are aware of the results of overdoing either cardio or body building workouts,” says Dr Deepa Dhavjekar, spa and recreation manager at the Taj Palace Dubai.
“Remember, you should set realistic goals. In my experience, people join the gym and say ‘I want to lose 10 kg in one month’. Weight reduction takes place gradually through a systematic plan,” she explains.
“Men are actively working harder to look good. They are more conscious about their looks and trying to keep fit. They yearn to have a good physique that will improve their personality and give them self-confidence,” she adds.
“But as many women can tell you after years of striving for perfection, a good physique doesn’t equal a better personality or self-confidence. That’s something you’ll have to work on from the inside.”