A distortion of beauty
When it’s never enough, the reflection you see may be distorted
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.