A dis­tor­tion of beauty

When it’s never enough, the re­flec­tion you see may be dis­torted

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT ROMEO MO­RAN ILLUSTRATION MARTIN DIEGOR

In an age where so­ci­ety has put one of the high­est pre­mi­ums on health and fit­ness, have you ever stopped to won­der if you’re work­ing out and eat­ing prop­erly for the right rea­sons? Sure, we spend hours ex­er­cis­ing and painstak­ingly count­ing calo­ries to both look and feel good, but there are some peo­ple who do it to make up for some crip­pling in­se­cu­rity. Al­though those of us who have got­ten into the healthy life­style have done so be­cause of an in­se­cu­rity, are you sure you’re not killing your­self over­do­ing it?

If you’re over­work­ing and push­ing your body to the limit try­ing to look a cer­tain way, then you may have body dys­mor­phic dis­or­der (BDD). Put sim­ply, it’s when a per­son is too pre­oc­cu­pied with a phys­i­cal flaw or de­fect that’s ei­ther imag­ined or blown out of pro­por­tion, re­sult­ing in a per­ceived sense of ug­li­ness. In ex­treme cases, he or she re­sorts to dras­tic mea­sures such as plas­tic surgery to change the way he or she looks. It’s where a lot of body im­age disorders stem from, and both men and women are sus­cep­ti­ble to it.

While this is com­mon­place—cau­tion­ary tales of peo­ple try­ing to look a cer­tain way have, un­for­tu­nately, be­come the norm in this cen­tury—there is a cer­tain off­shoot of BDD that doesn’t get enough at­ten­tion. It’s a brand of BDD (and per­haps ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der) that largely af­fects men called mus­cle dys­mor­phia, also known as megarexia or big­orexia. It’s when males are overly con­cerned with at­tain­ing a mus­cu­lar ap­pear­ance even when they al­ready look fit or mus­cu­lar; mus­cle dys­mor­phia causes one to think that he or she is still small and weak.

It starts af­fect­ing men (and also a per­cent­age of women) in their late teens, usu­ally when they be­gin to have ac­cess to weightlift­ing, and es­ti­mates of men af­fected num­ber in the hun­dred thou­sands. Ath­letes are likely to be af­fected by a body im­age dis­or­der be­cause of the cor­re­la­tion be­tween how they look and how they per­form in sports. Peo­ple af­fected with mus­cle dys­mor­phia also tend to have low self-es­teem that’s tied to their physique—they could have been ei­ther too thin or too fat dur­ing their for­ma­tive years. It could be as in­nocu­ous as a guy con­stantly check­ing his body out in the mir­ror, or as ex­treme as skip­ping work or so­cial events be­cause he’d rather work out. What’s worse is that in their minds, they could never achieve the look they’re aim­ing for, wors­en­ing their self-es­teem and sense of self-worth.

Like with most body im­age disorders, there’s no mag­i­cal cure for mus­cle dys­mor­phia. Right now, the only way to com­bat it is to re­train how an af­fected per­son thinks about him­self and ap­proaches ex­er­cise, of­ten through cog­ni­tive-be­hav­ioral tech­niques and ther­apy. What’s also im­por­tant is that gym buffs who may be spend­ing too much time pump­ing iron should be aware, so they don’t end up fall­ing fur­ther into the trap.

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