Body Image Issues and Men
Erick, a 25-year old sales junior executive has a problem. “Whenever I hang out with my friends to a night club, I feel totally invisible – as if I don’t even exist!”
With a hint of frustration in his voice he adds, “Do you what it’s like to spend hours in the gym each week, only to be completely ignored by everyone? It sucks! I’ve started to call myself Casper the ugly ghost”
Mike, a 33-year old body builder standing in front of a gym room mirror has a similar problem.
“I do 300 crunches a day and spend more time lifting weights than I do at home. I’ve got a washboard stomach and a decent physique, with good size calves to boot. I even won a national body building competition last year.
But the truth is I never feel big enough.” Shaking his head in disapproval while continuing to gaze at his reflection he adds, “The money I spend on grooming products is sending me to the poor house and to make matters worse, I just charged a few grand to my credit card to pay for upcoming cosmetic surgery.”
Then suddenly he shouts, “Crap, look – a new wrinkle! Honestly, I just hate the way I look!”
Can you relate to Erick and Mike’s experiences? When you go out in public, do you feel unattractive, perhaps even ugly? In social settings, are there times that you become extremely anxious, believing that others find you hideously unattractive? If so, take heart because you are not alone.
The truth is that for many men, concerns regarding personal body image are a very real concern. To be sure, moderate attention to one’s own personal appearance is healthy and quite normal. However, there is a fine between healthy and harmful.
So you may now be asking, “How can I tell the difference?”
Below are 5 warning signs that are designed to help you decide. Bear in mind that these should not be considered a complete list and need to be examined in the totality of presenting behaviors.
1. You have serious anxiety about your appearance when in public
Do you always feel anxious whenever out in public, perhaps fearing that others are staring at you because of a self-perceived body flaw? Have you experienced “panic attacks” while in social settings, causing you to become so self-conscious that you have begun to avoid going out altogether, including routine jaunts with friends and family?
If so, this may suggest a more serious problem known as Social Phobia. The typical traits of Social Phobia can include the avoidance of social situations due to overwhelming fears that others are watching you because of a self-perceived physical defect. Often however, the defect is imagined.
2. You frequently feel unattractive or “ugly”
Do you feel that others find you unattractive, despite being told opposite by those in your immediate circle? On most days, do you avoid looking into the mirror because you have come to believe that the site of your reflection is “ugly” or even “grotesque”?
This particular characteristic may indicate what many mental health professionals refer to as a negative self-concept. If allowed to worsen, it can cause severe depression or in extreme cases, lead to thoughts of self-harm. It may also signify another condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), which brings us to our next warning sign.
3. You focus on perceived deficits on a regular basis
Do you find it impossible to stay away from the mirror on most days because you have an overwhelming urge to look at “image defects”? Do you try to conceal these defects from the world, using toning products (make-up) or clothing?
Do you avoid social settings because you believe this self-described defect is too revolting for others to see?
If you answered yes to these questions, you may be suffering from BDD. For people who suffer from this condition, the self-described defect is often an illusion, but none the less can lead to critically low self-esteem, unnecessary medical procedures (surgeries) and in many cases, severe depression.
4. You never feel “Big” enough – even though you constantly workout
Do you spend several hours each day at the gym, six to seven times per week? Have you used un-prescribed steroids or other chemical growth enhancers with the goal of packing on muscle because you believe that you are underdeveloped? Do you skip important life obligations, such as work or family gatherings in order to keep your gym appointment?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you may be living with Muscle Dysmorphia (MD). In short, MD is usually diagnosed when a man has at least two of these symptoms:
1) Gives up important work, social, or leisure activities because of a compulsive need to maintain a workout or diet schedule.
2) Avoids situations when body is exposed to others, or endures those situations with stress or anxiety.
3) Experiences significant distress or is unable to function day to day because of a preoccupation with body size or musculature.
4) Continues to work out, diet, and/or use performance-enhancing substances despite knowledge of negative affects. If you exhibit two or more of these characteristics, MD may be at play.
5. You Can’t stop comparing your body to other guys
This final point is probably the most obvious on the list of symptoms but it needs to be mentioned anyone because of its importance.
If you are constantly comparing your physique to other men in a way that is almost obsessive, consider it a pretty good sign you are dealing with some major body image issues.
This is particularly true if you have unrealistic expectations about what is achievable and what’s simply not possible. See body types for more insight.
What can you do?
Giving proper attention to your personal appearance is part of good physical hygiene. The truth is, we all want to appear attractive and look our best.
However, when concerns over personal appearance cause significant emotional distress or interfere with things you once enjoyed, take a few moments to consider the possibility that there may be a more serious problem at hand.
If you found yourself relating to one or more of these four warning signs, it may be time to get professional help. Counseling and therapy can help you to put your thoughts into a more realistic perspective.
Here is the deal – many times, body image issues become so woven into the daily fabric of our daily lives that we are often unaware of the harm being inflicted – both emotionally and physically.
In your search for guidance, be sure to seek out a licensed mental health professional who specializes in body image issues.
My best advice is to find someone who uses a cognitive-behavioral approach to counseling with the ultimate goal of changing faulty thought processes and replacing them with more healthy, positive ones.
Body Image Book for Guys
There is no shame in having body image issues. The problem is that as guys, we are taught not to be concerned about our appearance. In truth – most of us are but just won’t admit it.
And thanks to stereotypical societal norms, men have been conditioned not to speak about concerns over personal appearance with others – particularly other guys.
One book I would like to recommend is The Adonis Complex. Inside, you will find page after page of insight on male body image issues, muscle dysmorphia and “bigorexia”.
It’s a must read for any guy who struggles with feeling their size. It’s also a great resource for anyone involved with a man who may be struggling with the issues mentioned above.
I hope you found the material in this article useful. Please feel free to share with others – particularly any of your buddies who may be struggling with male body image issues. Thanks for stopping by Guy Counseling!