4 Signs A Man You Know Is Suffering From Body Image Issues

By Christi Pratte··  7 min read
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4 Signs A Man You Know Is Suffering From Body Image Issues shutterstock

Body image isn’t just a woman’s issue, despite popular belief.

Maybe you know this already.

Maybe you don’t. 

But one thing we can all attest to is that body image issues definitely aren’t as commonly recognized or as vocalized for men as they are for women...and they should be.

I honestly didn’t think of it much until a few years ago. It’s not that I thought the issue didn’t exist, I just assumed it wasn’t as prevalent for men as it was for women. 

I was wrong.

Throughout my twenties, I found myself heavily immersed in the fitness scene as a women’s kickboxing instructor. Obviously, working primarily with women in that capacity brought body dysmorphia to the forefront of my focus. When I transitioned into my writing career, I began with entry articles revolving around the topic of body positivity, body love, achieving healthier lifestyles, and overall holistic wellness. I recall one piece I published about body imaging and to my surprise received lots of DMs

I thought it was interesting that so many men resonated with this message I had intended for women. I also found it interesting that many took to DMs where their comments wouldn’t be seen publicly as opposed to responding in the comments section. It showed me there was more to this issue than I thought because it was clear that men were indeed struggling too, but silently.

Why Do Men Struggle with Their Bodies?

Just like for women, a pressure to fit a certain standard set by society and media can be a leading factor. While the physical ideals may differ (for women, it's weight; for men, it's muscles), the mediums of projection are similar. If you browse through popular men’s magazines like Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Journal, etc. you’ll notice there’s a perceived “perfect” body type presented on the covers. And just like with women’s magazines, there may be valuable information inside, but it’s the cover model's physique that impacts our subconscious programming.

Superhero stories relay the message that to be brave you need to have the muscles to prove it.

Additionally, in this article from Healthline, fingers point towards superhero movies during adolescent years as being an influence. In 2016-2018, 4 out of the top 10 grossing movies in the U.S. have been superhero stories relaying the untoned message that to be dependable, brave, and honorable you need to have the muscles to prove it. This is reiterated in the shocking 90% of middle school and high school boys who stated they exercise with one specific goal in mind – “to bulk up.”

Of course, bullying is always a contributor as well. National surveys suggest that among overweight middle-school aged children, 30% of girls and 24% of boys experience daily teasing and rejection due to their size. Those numbers double in high school, leveling at around 63% for girls and 58% for boys. While obesity is a health concern that should be addressed to help all individuals reach their optimal state of wellbeing, this level of bullying can provoke restrictive and obsessive behaviors that are just as detrimental to overall health.

Is Your Man Struggling?

After I became aware that this is very much an issue for men too, I became much more apt to identify symptoms of struggle and cries for help early on. I learned the four most destructive behaviors to look for in men are fad dieting, disordered eating, exercise addiction, and steroid abuse. What do these look like?

Fad dieting is known to be trendy, restrictive, and full of empty promises. Most likely marketed with “get fit quick” schemes, this approach plays primarily on the pain point of the consumer wanting a fast, ideal body type but leaving little opportunity to maintain the results long-term. Think of fad dieting like a sprint as opposed to a marathon. You can identify fad diets when foods are “off-limits” or labeled as “good or bad.” According to Men’s Health the 5 most popular diet trends for men are the Ketogenic Diet, the Paleo Diet, Whole 30, and DASH.

Disordered eating is when a person skips meals, over or under eats, takes diet pills, practices anorexia or bulimia, or engages in extreme cleanses. Any eating ritual that is off balance by nature and promotes unhealthy patterns of deprivation followed by binging is by definition disordered eating.

Unhealthy patterns of deprivation followed by binging is by definition disordered eating.

Exercise addiction is a psychological compulsion that has a person hyper-focused on reaching a result that seems to never come. This obsession can cause tension in other areas of a person’s life like lack of interest in other activities outside the gym, feelings of guilt when a workout is missed, and even trouble maintaining healthy relationships. 

Then there’s the most male-dominating one of all – steroid abuse. According to the FDA, steroid abuse mainly targets young adolescent boys at 375,000 a year in comparison to 175,000 women. Misuse of steroids have mild to life-threatening adverse effects including heart attacks, acne, infertility, tumors, heightened aggression, and many other concerning detriments. It’s said men suffering from steroid abuse often turn to other drug substances to further fulfill their addiction.

What You Can Do To Help

If you see signs of these behaviors in a loved one, friend, or family member, it can be challenging to address. You might second guess if it’s your place to step in, afraid to say the wrong thing, or make matters worse. No one wants to unintentionally hurt someone they love more than they’re already hurting, which is why these conversations require a deep level of understanding and possibly professional support.  

This can be especially taxing if you’re in a relationship with a man who is suffering from body dysmorphia. As we saw above, when body goals become all-consuming, that means the methods to achieve it take priority...even over those they love most. In fact, Women’s Health brought particular attention to this issue by suggesting the right words to say when you encounter the above issues with your partner (check it out here). 

When paying your loved one a compliment, avoid anything regarding their physical appearance.

In summary, the best thing you can do for your loved one is be honest and supportive. Let them know you’re there for them and create the space to talk openly. When paying your loved one a compliment, avoid anything regarding their physical appearance. This may seem obvious, however it’s all too tempting to nurse the wound in a desire to build up their confidence. No matter how well-meaning you may be, focusing on appearance can actually cause toxic behaviors to increase. It’s also important to lead by example, by not talking negatively about your own appearance or body in front of your loved one who’s struggling. Ultimately, if these strides don’t seem to be making any progress and symptoms intensify, professional assistance may be necessary. You can find some great resources here

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, the statistics show men are right behind women in their struggles with body image due to similar environmental and social influences. So why isn’t it talked about as much? It’s still a mystery to me. Although, speculation lends itself to gender stereotypes and perceptions in which men feel embarrassed seeking support for something that’s labeled a woman’s issue.

The best way to combat this hesitation is through building awareness that these behaviors stem from a psychological illness that should receive adequate attention. I hope that through building more awareness around this issue, support can be administered to those who need it most. At the end of the day, it’s essential for both men and women to feel confident and secure within their bodies to lead their healthiest and most fulfilling lives.

When the mind is consumed with physical appearance, all essence of life’s truest beauty is lost – the time spent with loved ones, pictures to capture memories, and enjoying meals as a way to come together. Releasing the need to control our bodies and instead nurture them the way they’re designed is the golden goal far above any magazine cover.

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  Body Issues  Mental Health
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© 2021 Evie Magazine

Seek Truth. Find Beauty.

© 2021