STRIVING FOR THE PERFECT BODY
By Michéal Brannigan
Saturday/Sunday, June 6-7, 2009.
It seems these days that it is not just women who are pressurised to conform to a certain look or body size. Increasingly men are now expected to have the physique of the latest movie or sporting superstar.
Not so long ago, showing off your beer belly was a symbol of your manliness. Now society demands a fitter body. We live in a culture that values style over substance and looking good over feeling good.
This pressure is coming from different sources, the most obvious one being the media, with underwear advertising featuring the perfect body, and magazines featuring countless images of muscular and usually air-brushed men. Men are now aspiring to the male celebrity physique seen in so many lads’ magazines.
Somewhat surprisingly, peer pressure from fellow men is also forcing this issue. This has lead to men lying about how often they workout and exaggerating about how much they can lift, because they fear they will be left behind.
Another possible factor has been gender equality and women’s rise in the workplace. It has raised questions about masculinity, with men fixating on muscularity as a means of maintaining their identity.
These pressures have resulted in some dangerous trends that are being taken to extreme levels. It has fueled more and more young men to avidly lift weights, blend protein shakes and buy bodybuilding magazines.
One of the side effects of excessive exercising is known as ‘muscle dysmorphia’ or sometimes reverse anorexia - a condition in which one obsesses about lacking muscle definition and mass, even with a muscular body. This has lead to a rise in the abuse of anabolic steroids.
There are some signals to look for when exercising has turned into an unhealthy obsession:
• When exercising interferes with other areas of your life and your relationships or work suffers.
• When you harm yourself in pursuit of fitness by abusing steroids or suffering injuries due to overtraining.
• If you see yourself as being fat or puny, but others around you say that you are muscular.
• Your self-esteem is based solely on your appearance.
Another area causing concern has been the rise in eating disorders. According to the president of the Men’s Health Forum Dr. Ian Banks, it is now believed that men suffer from about 10% to 20% of all eating disorders.
Eating disorders in men (as in women) are not about food or weight, but are in fact emotional issues. Being overly self-conscious about their body shape is one cause.
In the UK , this year’s National Men’s Health Week from the 12th - 18th of June will focus on mental wellbeing. The aim is to raise awareness across a wide range of topics relevant to mental health, including perceived body image and low self-esteem, and ways to reduce the risks, or understand more (and become more empowered) about how to take steps to improve mental wellbeing.
This relatively new obsession for men is focused more on physical appearance than anything else, and experts believe men need to start to understand that it is all about being in tune with your own body, not comparing yourself with others, or trying to look like somebody else.
The focus should be on your health and general wellbeing rather than looks alone. Like most areas related to diet and health, trying to find the right balance is the key to getting the most out of your body.
Check out these sites for more information on eating disorders and male health:
Independent information from the Men’s Health Forum
Eating Disorders Association