Phantom limb


Most of my posts about health and body image thus far have been about women, and the unrealistic ideals that are imposed on us by society and the media. Today it’s the turn of the menfolk, who it seems are increasingly susceptible to pressure and body shaming.

While I don’t believe it is so prevalent a thing for men, I have noticed a change in recent times in the media imagery of men. Big muscles are back, not necessarily at the Schwarzenegger level, but with demonstrable guns at least. Looking at Hollywood movies, all the male stars seem to have the bod these days. Even the ones that used to play the dark haired, bookish type, like Tobey Maguire, have bulked up, either to play superheroes or tortured boxers.

Not that I watch these kind of films much, but the lead actors are always the cover stars of Men’s Health, with features inside about their exercise routine and what they eat, to get the body they want. Sound familiar sisters? Obviously the writing style in these kind of magazines is more macho, but it’s essentially the same shtick they give women. Yes, you can have this body, if you do this. Alongside the ideas and advice, here are some things you can buy. Yada yada yada.

And much like it is for women, this body is everywhere. According to an article on the BBC website yesterday, it is believed that about one in ten of gym goers may be suffering from muscle dysmorphia (or bigorexia), a condition that means the person has a distorted view of their body. They think they are small, when they are already muscled, and become obsessed with getting bigger. This can lead to over training and use of steroids, which in turn can lead to strokes and heart attacks. This condition can affect anyone, but it is predominantly young men who suffer from it and suffer they do. Some have died or been hospitalised. Before that, they can look very strange indeed.

I know I’ve posted a picture like this before, which my coach pointed out was probably not real. But this did come up in an image search for muscle dysmorphia. It makes me think of acorns inside a heavily bronzed condom and it’s just too bizarre not to share:


I wonder how widespread this problem is? Is the guy in the picture dysmorphic, or just a perfect version of how he wants to look? Like the artificially pneumatic bleached blondes with fake tans and lips like plumped cushions, the more extreme, the more like their ideal they become. Even if it kills them – remember Lolo Ferrari, the Italian porno actress? What a sad cartoon that woman was. You could see the stitches where they patched extra skin on her tits, but that didn’t stop her. She just kept on going until one day her boobs burst and killed her. Or something horrible along those lines.

Back to the men. Guys who kill themselves for muscle are the same as Lolo. No doubt there are people out there who fetishize this extremism, but to the majority, they look like freaks. Which is presumably the opposite of their intention. I wonder if this is a growing problem, like the guy in the article suggests, or if men are more resilient than women in this regard?

I suggest this, not because I think men are more resilient per se, but because they haven’t had centuries of being judged solely on their appearance. This surge in male body and cosmetics products is relatively new. Yes, there are periods of history where the dandier male wore the wigs, powder and pantaloons just like the women, but in recent times no. And even then, fashion and wigs were about status and power. Men were not judged on the attractiveness on their appearance. It’s a twenty first century business thing: the female market is about the same as it ever was, they’ve had the pink pound, and now they are coming for the rest of the men. Simple.

They (the Man) have been telling us women for years that our bodies are rubbish, that we need to do this and buy this to fix ourselves. Now they are telling men the same. And there are no quick fixes, let’s be honest. There are cheats of sorts, and I wonder if men are more susceptible to these? Again, just my opinion, but men are generally more competitive than women. They would want to get bigger, or faster or whatever, to beat the other guy. Perhaps they are more likely to be tempted by pills and potions.

Or perhaps it’s just that extremists are that way because they have other mental health issues, diagnosed or not. You have to be pretty dysmorphic to think that your body looks good on the point of bursting. Most people are not like that, but I guess out of the masses of people that go the gym, like anywhere, a percentage are a bit screwed up. And it’s good to be aware of when you might be losing it a bit over your exercise routine, whoever you are. Professional sports types exempted.

To estimate the prevalence of muscle, or general body dysmorphia among the male population, I would suggest taking a look around the melting pot of humanity that is your office. This may be unscientific, but who cares? A brief investigation would find that of the females, 99.9%* of them would be on some kind of diet/being good/watching what they eat/being depressed about being overweight but doing nothing and/or an exercise plan.

*completely made up statistic based on experience.

Of the men, there are some who are still quite fit, and they are the ones that exercise regularly, even if that is only a game of blisteringly violent, five a side football with their other middle aged friends a couple of times a week.  On a good day, they make up about 25% of your average office. The rest do not bother, would rarely admit to dieting, or talk about doing an exercise programme as part of a mission  to lose weight. Which makes me think that men need a lot more practice at hating themselves.

Or maybe they do talk about it, in secret places away from the women, agonising over their expanding waistlines and receding hairlines. Just as insecure as woman are but at least we gain comfort from talking about it, knowing that others share the difficulties.  Men, please do comment, inquiring female minds want to know!

Perhaps that’s the fundamental message to men. Talk about it. Don’t pretend you don’t suffer the way we all do. Talk to women about it – we are experts. And for fuck’s sake, don’t end up looking like a bag of acorns.

Until next time,




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  1. I struggled with Dysmorphia for a very long time. I never went as far as using steroids but the amount of protein and weight lifting I did was unreal. The problem with Dysmorphia is that you can’t see what other people see. You don’t see your muscles just like an anorexic doesn’t see their bones protruding. For me it wasn’t about looking like a weird acorn-condom-alien (lol) it was just about looking ‘jacked’, the problem was that I couldn’t actually see myself even when I was ‘jacked’.
    In the last year I have noticed many women ditching the diet mentality and joining the self acceptance movement, I have also noticed many men joining the diet and fitsperation movement… maybe it’s their time under microscope.

    Liked by 1 person

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