When you open a newspaper, turn on the TV or scroll down a webpage all too often you are faced with images of impossibly perfect women – skinny, toned, bronzed. It’s becoming more common in today’s contemporary society that these images receive backlash, not only from women, but from men also, with both genders acknowledging the unrealistic body standards that women are subjected to from news and media outlets.
However, whilst the spotlight seems to be firmly fixed on women, are we in actual fact failing to notice that these ‘ideal’ body standards are not just aimed at females, but are in fact also targeted at men?
It’s only natural that when faced with perfect images of airbrushed models that men and women would automatically turn to the gym. An increase in gym memberships, with men topping the list, has meant that it’s more important now than ever to notice the effects of these advertising campaigns.
According to a BBC Newbeat report, one in ten men training at UK gyms may suffer from a condition named Muscle Dysmorphia or ‘Bigorexia’. The disorder is a strand of Body Dysmorphia and has been dubbed as ‘anti-anorexia’.
Rob Wilson, chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation said in the BBC Newsbeat investigation that “Muscle Dysmorphia is a preoccupation with the idea that one isn’t big enough, isn’t muscular enough”.
The disorder is a form of anxiety that causes the sufferer to feel they are small in muscular stature, whereas in reality they are the extreme opposite, possessing excessive muscles. Signs of Muscle Dysmorphia can vary from case to case but mainly includes working out religiously and prioritising time spent at the gym, over time with friends and family.
Ryan Fearn is a personal trainer at Lifestyle Fitness Canterbury based in Kent. He believes that the media drives most of the ideas about the ‘ideal’ body shape.
“There is tremendous pressure on men to look a certain way, probably because sex and therefore attractiveness sells well.”
Whilst these statistics reveal the issues surrounding body image concerning those who are gym members, surely it’s just as important to consider the impact on those that work in the industry?
“It does concern me a great deal and I am frequently asked about how to bulk up. I think the most pressure is on younger personal trainers. Someone senior will be respected more for his or her knowledge.”
Something that Ryan finds particularly worrying is steroid abuse. “I think the use of steroids by a lot of men, and unfortunately personal trainers, is not helping the situation. Men will look at these [steroid] users and think it is a natural and normal shape that can be achieved by working out”.
Taking supplements or excessive protein shake consumption is also a prominent issue. Sam Clark, who teaches group gym classes in Essex and Hertfordshire, says that these should be avoided in favour of natural produce such as protein, vegetables and fruit.
“Protein supplementation is probably the biggest seller on the market, used in the correct way it can be beneficial towards training, however it should not be used as a full replacement meal option.”
The NHS has been quick to state that Bigorexia could be a genetic disorder caused by a chemical imbalance. Furthermore environmental factors such as being bullied or abused as a young child could also increase the risk. For now, further research needs to be conducted so as to treat the conditional safely and effectively.
Of course, it goes without saying that if you feel like you could be suffering from a form of body dysmorphia to discuss this with your GP.