In recent years, the increase in body dysmorphia has been hard to ignore. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is reported to effect around 1 in 100 people in the UK (Telegraph.co.uk) and is often attributed to our appearance and ‘selfie’ obsessed society.
Continuously unrealistic beauty ideals are promoted in the media through television, magazines, films and music videos. This undoubtedly contributes towards the social pressure to conform to this ‘perfect look’ and causes us to compare ourselves to images which have been altered. People are therefore striving towards an unobtainable goal, which undoubtedly knocks confidence and lowers self-esteem when we are unable to achieve it.
One representation of this is bigorexia or reversed anorexia.
What is bigorexia?
The disorder is an anxiety disorder which causes someone to see themselves as small even if they are actually big and muscular and has sometimes been referred to as the opposite of anorexia.
“Muscle dysmorphia is a preoccupation with the idea that one isn’t big enough, isn’t muscular enough,” Rob Wilson, chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation said in a BBC Newsbeat investigation.
With muscle dysmorphia, men become obsessed with the size of their muscles and have excessive concerns about appearing physically weak or underdeveloped. These men (and occasionally women) have an excessive preoccupation with their muscle size and experience great distress over these concerns.
What are the signs of bigorexia?
Bigorexia can be difficult to spot, but typically people with this condition will exhibit some of the following symptoms…
- Constantly worrying about muscles size/mass
- Spending excessive amounts of time working out that interferes with their life in a negative way
- Constantly checking themselves in the mirror or actually avoiding looking at themselves in the mirror
- Weighing themselves multiple times a day
- Wearing baggy clothing in public to keep others from seeing their body
- Feel great anxiety and distress when they miss a workout or deviate slightly from their strict diet
- Other people feel they are too concerned with appearance and working out
- Abuse anabolic steroids or take supplements to gain muscle mass and reduce body fat
Causes of Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia
Experts don’t have a clear understanding of the causes of muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia. Like other obsessive-compulsive disorders, research indicates that it could arise from a combination of factors including:
- Genetics – people with a relative that has bigorexia are more likely to develop the disorder, pointing to a genetic component.
- Brain differences – people with muscle dysmorphia may have insufficient levels of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter in the brain that affects mood and well-being.
- Environment – childhood and adolescent environment, family issues, bullying, emotional trauma, and cultural factors may increase the risk that a person will develop muscle dysmorphia.
Whilst help is available to all sufferers of body dysmorphia and eating disorders in general, it seems the first step is getting men to open up, an ongoing process to help bring down the number of male suicides which is the number one killer of men between 18 and 34. One way to achieve this is by raising awareness of these disorders in men. In order to achieve this we need a shift in attitudes that doesn’t portray an altered, air brushed image of perfection. Showing images of real people, with realistic body shapes and focusing on people more for their achievements and not what they look