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Muscle Dysmorphia and Male Body Image


Muscle Dysmorphia and Male Body Image


Here's a test. Saunter into your local hardcore bodybuilding gym and ask the biggest guys in the place about "muscle dysmorphia."

Provided you're not wearing a CrossFit T-shirt and interrupting them mid-set, you'll likely get a few standard responses.

Most will say it's all media hullaballoo. Others will look at you like you asked them for directions to the nearest Vegan diner. A brave few might quietly admit that it can be a problem – just not with them, of course.

Muscle dysmorphia is categorized by being totally obsessed with the idea that you're not muscular enough. In mild form, it's a recreational gym-rat avoiding situations where other larger bodybuilders are present because he feels he's too small. In its extreme, it's a 300-pound ticking time-bomb desperately chasing another ten pounds of mass so he can finally feel "big enough."

However, isn't there a little muscle dysmorphia in every lifter? And can't it be argued that it can, in small doses, be a good thing?

Can we even call it a disease?

Good questions. For answers, we turn to Dr. Stu.

Dr. Stuart Murray is no ordinary couch psychologist. He started lifting weights at 15, back when hardcore meant hardcore – no chrome, no women, just wall-to-wall monsters. Dr. Stu was also starting his first psychology degree around that same time and soon found himself looking around the gym and wondering what it all meant.

Years later, while finishing off his second doctorate, he took some time out between papers to talk about being obsessed with muscularity, male body image, steroids, and why, as TNation readers, you're probably not mentally ill.

T NATION: So Dr. Stu, who the hell are you?

T NATION: Let's start with the obvious. Muscle Dysmorphia, MD for short. What is it?

T NATION: How do we know if we have MD?

DSM:

Muscle Dysmorphia and Male Body Image

Good for him! Obviously his skinny fat boss wasn't hardcore and would never get big. Wait, sorry about that. MD must be tough on relationships?

DSM:

T NATION: When do these guys finally get help?

DSM:

T NATION: Okay bucko, stop it right there. Let me stand up on behalf of my bodybuilding brethren. You sir, are trying to demonize somewhat eccentric but perfectly normal behavior.

You are going after our subculture, calling it abnormal, and turning it into a movie-of-the-week disorder. You don't understand what we do, and you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.

As far as I'm concerned, sitting on your ass eating Cheetos while watching "Dancing with the Douchebags" is abnormal behaviour. What's the fancy government-funded acronym for that?

DSM:

Muscle Dysmorphia and Male Body Image


T NATION: Fair enough. Let's use your typical committed TNation reader as an example. They watch their food carefully. They might count calories every now and then, especially when dieting. They cook everything they can for themselves and always try to have a protein snack handy.

Let's say they train every day, sometimes twice a day, following one of the kick-ass programs here at TNation. As a result, they aren't small. So now they're mentally ill?

DSM:

T NATION: So it's a negative rather than a positive feedback loop?

DSM:

T NATION: So, are your patients always massive?

DSM:

T NATION: Come on, now. I have flat shoulders, for example, and they piss me off greatly. Does that mean I should be fitted for a straight jacket?

DSM:

T NATION: I suppose steroids (AAS) can play a nasty part in all this?

DSM:

T NATION: What role does the media, specifically the Internet, play in all this? It seems like a lot of guys are trying to live up to a body image being created by 21st century bodybuilders that's unattainable to 99.9% of the population?

DSM:

T NATION: What role does competitive bodybuilding have in all this?

DSM:

T NATION: What sort of response do you expect to get from this?

DSM:

T NATION: And I suppose men are rarely good at asking for psychological help in the first place.

DSM:

T NATION: 90% men to 10% women. That's almost the precise reverse of the figures on anorexia!

DSM:

T NATION: Okay, we're out of space. What about a conclusion?

DSM:

T NATION: Thanks for doing this today doc!

DSM:


Have comments about what you just read? Furious, frothing at the mouth, and dying to give this Dr. Stu character a swift kick to the gonads?

Or did he describe someone who sounds a lot like someone you know. A friend, a family member, or maybe even that big SOB you see every morning in the mirror?

Post your comments in the LiveSpill.

Dr. Stuart Murray is a Psychologist who has clinical experience across a wide range of psychological difficulties. Currently completing his Ph.D and Doctoral training at the University of Sydney, Stuart has trained at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in the Eating Disorders Unit, and is recognized internationally in the area of male body image disorders and Muscle Dysmorphia. He can be reached at [email protected].



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