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Editorial: More attention needed for male body image issues

By Editorial Board
On November 7, 2011

  • Jeff Adrien, right, combined with Josh Boone to create a strong frontcourt for the Huskies Thursday night.

Ideal body image is a controversial subject that has recently inundated popular media. From impressing weight standards on supermodels and adjusting BMI analyses for health standards, to implementing social measures such as the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and Fat Talk Free Week, it is clear that a stand is being made against negative female body image and bad self esteem. But this movement to remove negative body image stigma from women is also a negligent campaign. Amidst the focus on women's health, we have ignored men's health, especially when discussing body image.

Men, and teenage boys, are not immune to feeling dissatisfaction with their bodies. And while there is an extensive battery of literature and studies on eating disorders in women, relatively few studies focus on the prevalence of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia or body dysmorphic disorder in men. Considering the overly-bulked-up G.I. Joe ideal that is the corollary to Barbie for young girls, we do men and boys a disservice by ignoring that they, too, can struggle with their image and cause themselves harm because of it. From the "average Joe" to the elite athlete, men need to see images in the media that emphasize health over some dehumanized, objectified ideal. People complain about what the image of a Victoria's Secret model can do to a young girl's or woman's self esteem and perception of herself and her own beauty. The same can be said about what the image of an Abercrombie model's physique does to a young boy's perception of masculinity, and what constitutes a "good-enough" physique.

It is not only through advertising that young men and boys are affected by an unhealthy message regarding their bodies. Anyone who has watched a wrestler train can attest to the pains young men undertake to gain or lose weight. Weightlifting, bodybuilding, football, boxing, crew, swimming, cross country, track and gymnastics, to name a few, have long perpetuated a tradition of encouraging drastic weight cutting and gaining to achieve an athletic advantage or aesthetic, even though it is a practice frowned upon by the medical field and athletic governing bodies. A study done through the Ohio State University Medicine Center also found that athletes in who participate in "lean" sports such as track, cross-country or swimming and diving show higher occurrences of symptoms of eating disorders, such as binging and purging. Pressure to perform well while aspiring to a certain image of masculinity can create a vicious cycle of bad nutrition and disordered eating, detrimental exercise habits, potential substance abuse and bad self-esteem in men.

We need to consider the Adonis complex with the same gravitas given to anorexia in women. The research may be less developed, but as the condition persists, the medical field is catching up to addressing it. Society needs to do the same. 

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