body dysmorphic disorder ("bigorexia" or the "Adonis complex"?)

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sun 08 May 2005 - 00:29:22 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "more on bigorexia"

    My recent reply to Bill had me thinking about distortion of body image. I remember getting exposed to some notions of female eating disorders like anorexia having something to do with distortion in body image. There's a separate designation in the DSM-IV-TR (4th ed) for something called "Body Dysmorphic Disorder" which excludes cases of anorexia, but does includes body image distortions of various feature characteristics like nose, genitals, breasts and muscularity. It seems that male BDD is an actual area of ongoing research and social criticism. There have been terms coined like "bigorexia" (which I've traced back to the mid-eighties in and article of August 12, 1985's _People Weekly_ that talks about the
    "Barbarian Brothers" whomever they were (???) and a May 20, 1987 article in the _Miami Herald_ newspaper. There's something called the "Adonis complex" that's the title of a 2000 book by Pope, Phillips, and Olivardia called _The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession_. Hmmmm...

    So body image issues aren't just for women. I know I had a preoccupation with working out for a while and was rather happy with my gains (much of which I've lost in my present lethargic state). I mixed my fair share of protein and carb-loading (or bloating is more like it) shakes and went from roughly 170lbs to over 200lbs over a period of years. Never did the juice, thank goodness. But I understand the temptation. I don't think I was obsessed enough to have needed psychiatric help, but the "bigorexia" label is apt.

    I can't say that body-building is a bad thing. Maybe the craze or the popular images conveyed have gotten out of hand. What's the difference between a teenage girl puking in a toilet to look like a waif and a teenage boy compulsively mixing multiple protein shakes every day to gain bulk, besides the net direction the food takes? Or maybe the boy taking steroids is a better comparison to the girl endangering her health by forced regurgitation. It has gotten out of hand in both instances and maybe popular images have some influence.

    Should we blame media (cue Vince)? Lorenzen, Grieve and Thomas (2004. Exposure to muscular male models decreases men's body satisfaction. Sex Roles (51): 743-748) explored the impact of viewing muscular images on men and assert: "Similar to women who look to the media for cultural standards of an attractive body ideal, men may also be susceptible to interpreting a muscular body ideal from media images." Not sure how good their methods were or the validity of their results, but it shows people are studying this stuff. And of course the media is to blame. Aren't they always :-)

    There's apparently research comparing "Eastern"
    (Taiwanese) men versus "Western" men that makes it seem that this is more of a Western affliction. But what about the body image of the Japanese Sumo wrestler who can't keep up his weight? Is this a reasonable question?

    There's a marketing article (Vogel. 2005. Boost business with positive body image marketing: help your clients gain a healthy perspective on what it truly means to be fit. IDEA Fitness Journal (2):34-6) that takes a more responsible approach acknowledging the body image distortion problems and warning not to
    "alienat(e) prospective clients" by going overboard on the washboard abs. Thus "memetic engineering" might be attenuating its viral messages ;-)

    But on the other hand, I wonder if this "Adonis complex" might become a problem where school counselers and behavior professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists go overboard and see bigorexia everywhere they look and start prescribing antidepressants for yet another disorder.

    Maybe this "Adonis complex" is a recent phenomena that has resulted from the onslaught of bodybuilding media or something always there but just recently accelerated. Maybe its also a crisis created by its recognition and diagnosis in the sense that professionals have a new way of looking at things and think its a novel condition or that it's lurking around every corner.

    So not only can we look at the social problems influencing bigorexia as a disorder but tendencies of the behavioral scientists that study bigorexia to reify it.

    A protein shake for thought...

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