Today’s media portrays image problems as a phenomenon only experienced by the female portion of our population, but they are wrong. It is a widely known fact that young women can sometimes struggle with self-esteem issues, and these self-doubts often lead to unhealthy eating or exercising patterns. What has not been as prevalent is the more recent struggle felt by today’s men to meet seemingly impossible physical standards. This pressure is most strongly experienced by two groups: college aged-men and young professionals. Magazines do not typically choose to put the plus-sized, or even average-built person on their cover. Men’s magazines, such as Flex and Muscle and Fitness, make sure to allow only the most exceptionally fit men to grace their covers. Often these men are shown with bulging biceps, huge shoulders and enormous pectorals. They look larger then life, but these are the images that bombard males in this country.
These models are often shown with beautiful women clinging to their arms and this only furthers the idea that to be attractive, one must match these physical standards. Former NFL player and West Chester student, Micheal Mohring, states, “The media definitely plays a role in male body image. When every picture has a man with six pack abs, it’s tough not to feel influenced.” It seems only natural that a man would want to be in shape, but the question must be asked, how far is too far?
This phenomenon of male obsession with body image has actually been given a name: the Adonis Complex. This term was coined by a group of doctors named Pope, Phillips and Olvadaria in their book, “The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body.” This label is used to describe some men’s desire to do absolutely anything in order to pursue the perfect body. The extent to which many college-aged males are going to for this ideal physique is becoming rather alarming and completely unhealthy.
The most typical sign of a problem is over-exercising. While exercise and weight training are healthy components of an active lifestyle, Adonis sufferers take this habit to the limit. Brian Petters, a graduate of WCU and local gym owner says, “Weight training is a 24-hour activity. Most of the gains are made outside the gym with proper eating and sleeping patterns and control of stress. Some people just take it too far.” When a person puts in endless hours at the gym, this can be a warning sign of body obsession.
Taking time to work out is something that everyone should do, but if the extended time that a person puts in at the gym begins to take away from other aspects of his life, he may have a problem. Mohring also acknowledged this by saying, “If all your focus is on your body, this is when it has gone too far. When the need to have that ideal body starts cutting into your social life and time with friends and family, you have a problem.”
So perhaps the question should not be “Do you exercise every day,” but instead, “How do you feel if you do not get to exercise one day?” If the answer is anything extremely or sufficiently negative, the healthy habit might be turning into something rather negative.
Often this over-exercising is a result of muscle dsymorphia. This occurs when a person perceives himself and his muscles as perpetually small and frail, even though in reality the person may be rather large and muscular. Many experts have noted that this problem is almost a reverse of anorexia. This has led to muscle dysmorphia also being called “bigorexia.” Even the largest and most powerful of bodybuilders have been known to call themselves small or undersized. When one gets this image into his head, this can often lead to endless hours spent hopelessly trying to overcome this fixation. An even more dangerous result of this can be the use and abuse of anabolic steroids. As both Petters and his gym co-owner Beau Westhoff agree, “When a person begins to use steroids, the healthy habit has turned into an obsession.”
Another aspect of the Adonis complex can be an extreme fear of fat. Instead of being dominated by the idea of a muscular body, some men are overwhelmed by a need to be completely devoid of any body fat. Bulimia is the disease that most often occurs when this type of fixation sets in. After consuming sometimes thousands of calories in a binge, these men will force themselves to throw up in order to get rid of the guilt associated with this practice. This is known as purging and although it has been well documented with women, men are catching up in numbers. One in six people with eating disorders are men. This number is only growing as men become more and more obsessive about their bodies.
Exercise should be an activity that is both beneficial and rewarding. It should not be a source of greater stress on one’s life and breaks are necessary for physical and mental well-being. As WCU student and avid lifter Mike Schles says, “You need to take a break for at least a day or two. Seven days of straight lifting is way too much.” Having a strong and healthy body can greatly increase one’s self-confidence, but letting this rule your life is not a normal habit.
Many males equate manliness with muscularity, but this simply is not true. If men want women to believe that their bodies are perfect even with some imperfections, then it’s time that they stop applying these impossible standards to their own physiques.