When the phrase ?body image disorder? is mentioned, many people automatically think of women, obsessively climbing that Stairmaster to thin-thighed perfection or battling an urge to throw up their last meal.
In our society, images of weight and appearance-conscious females have become almost as omnipresent as the models? images that they stereotypically strive to look like.
Little thought is given to the guy who is always in the gym, working out for hours a day. Can men have image-related disorders too?
The answer is yes.
The male body image problem is a rarely-talked-about phenomenon, but one that is increasing with time. Just as today?s constant barrage of media images has led some women to believe that they must live up to increasingly unrealistic physical standards, men are also affected by what they see on television and in magazines.
According to Boston Phoenix reporter Alicia Potter?s article, ?Mirror Image,? a V-shaped torso and chiseled chest have become a male beauty standard. Unfortunately, most men?s chances of looking like Marky Mark are about as high as my chances of ever looking like Tyra Banks. Nonetheless, many men spend hours in the gym hoping to build themselves the perfect body.
Although there is nothing wrong with exercise and wanting to be in good shape, some men have crossed the line into exercise addiction. Signs that an obsession with exercise may have become a problem include high anxiety over missing a workout and putting exercise as a priority over school and friends.
Researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts have even given a name to this disorder ? muscle dysmorphia.
A type of reverse anorexia that occurs in both men and women, muscle dysmorphia is when a person constantly thinks he or she is too small, despite already being very muscular. The disorder involves excessive exercise or the use of steroids to increase muscle mass.
Believe it or not, some researchers believe that men deal with unrealistic body images for nearly their whole lives.
Dr. Harrison Pope of McLean Hospital has found a link between the increase in body image disorders in men and the growing muscularity of popular boys? action figures.
When G.I. Joe came out in the 1960s, his bicep circumference, scaled to human dimensions, was 11 inches and similar to that of an ordinary man.
The researchers found that the bicep of the recent G.I. Joe ?Extreme? figure would have a circumference of 26 inches, which is larger than any bodybuilder in history.
Researchers at Cornell University cite football uniforms as the reason for the changing male ideal. Assistant professor of textiles and apparel Charlotte Jirousek said that the addition of padded uniforms is a reason that the popular male image has become increasingly muscular.
When football uniforms were made up of little more than sweaters and pants, the ideal body was that of a natural athlete. With the addition of padding to the football uniform, the perfect male has become increasingly muscular.
?The standard for jock manliness has escalated right out of normal reality and become larger than life,? Jirousek said.
On the other end of the spectrum are men who are striving to be thin. The better-known eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia also affect men. Although the stereotypical person with an eating disorder is a white teenage girl, according to T. Donald Branum, a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders, approximately 10 percent of anorexics and 20 percent of bulimics are male.
There have not yet been a lot of clinical studies done on male eating disorders, so not as much is known about eating concerns in men as compared to women.
According to Michelle Smith of UR?s Counseling and Mental Health Services, men seek treatment for eating concerns less often, which is one of the reasons they are under represented in studies.
A study by Dr. Arnold Anderson, entitled ?Gender-Related Aspects of Eating Disorders? found that women with body issues tend to focus on the waist down, men tend to focus from the waist up, and more men than women would be willing to be an average weight if they could pick the shape of their body.
Gay males are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, especially bulimia, than other men. There is more of a pressure in gay culture to be lean and sleek, and this results in an eating problem for some men.
Smith said that there are men on campus who deal with eating disorders and use the school?s general services. An eating disorder support group is available to everyone on campus through Clinical and Mental Health Services.
Body image disorders are an increasingly problem in modern society. While knowledge of the problem among females has become more widely spread, awareness among males still has a way to go.