In recent years, the increase in eating disorders and 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.
Whilst eating disorders and body dissatisfaction are stereotypically associated with women, the prevalence among men is often overlooked; 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male (ANAD.org). The rise in muscle dysmorphia or ‘bigorexia’ has recently been in the press prompting us to ask how men really feel about the appearance pressures in today’s 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.
Whilst women are continuously bombarded with ‘fat talk’ and ‘body shaming’, men are also subjected to such pressures. However, in our poll of 1000 UK males, less than 3 in 10 (29%) believe that men receive the same pressure as women to achieve ‘perfection’. 3 in 5 of those feel this pressure is attributed to the media, closely followed by pressure from the opposite sex (60%). Whilst some research suggests that the media is not the fundamental cause of appearance pressure these results suggest that it undoubtedly has an impact.
Over half (54%) of males aged 18-24 attribute this burden to their peers, with 38% feeling that the pressure comes from the gym or other exercise clubs. Much of this pressure from peers, particularly for young males, could arguably come from the use of social media.
It has become the norm to enhance, edit or filter our pictures before posting them on our profiles and waiting for feedback in the form of ‘likes’. The validation or acceptance felt from this positive feedback no doubt leads to insecurity when you don’t receive it. The popularity of social media also serves as the perfect platform for us to compare ourselves to others, developing an association between an attractive appearance and social success or popularity. 45% of 18-24 year old men polled, personally feel under pressure to achieve the perfect look, compared to just 7% of over 55s. The large difference could perhaps be partly attributed to the social media influence amongst younger generations.
Almost a quarter (23%) of those feeling pressure to look ‘perfect’ have taken part in weight training in an attempt to enhance their appearance. 20% have dieted to lose weight and 2% have taken fat burners, steroids or laxatives. Almost 3 in 10 18-24 year old males polled admit to dieting or exercising excessively in order to achieve a certain look. These statistics reflect the reported rise in Muscle Dysmorphia – also coined ‘Bigorexia’ in men.
Reports suggest that 10% of men training in gyms could suffer from this anxiety disorder (BBC Newsbeat), due to a growing pressure to look muscular. Whilst the cause of this obsession with appearance is not clear, the symptoms and consequences can be devastating, with severe cases resulting in serious health issues, very poor self-esteem and depression,and even suicide.
Over a third (35%) of men polled report experiencing low self-esteem due to their appearance. This was particularly common within the 18-24 year olds with almost 6 in 10 (58%) experiencing low self-esteem, compared to just 2 in 10 (21%) over 55s. Of those experiencing low self-esteem as a result of their appearance, almost 4 in 5 (79%) find it difficult to talk about their issues. This is a worrying figure, as it suggests that men who are suffering with body dissatisfaction are less likely to seek help, leading to increased severity of the condition and potentially devastating results.
But it’s not just medical help and assistance that sufferers of body related low self-esteem are missing out on. Our survey found that it has caused over a third from going on dates or having a relationship (37%). Almost 3 in 10 have stopped socialising with friends (29%), being intimate (28%) and a quarter have avoided going to the gym (25%). This insecurity has even prevented some of those polled from attending job interviews (14%) and going on holiday (11%). Whilst the impact of low self-esteem on relationships and dating is perhaps not surprising, it could be argued that the wider impact that body dissatisfaction can have upon day-to-day life is more profound. The concept that having such a lack of confidence in one’s appearance can lead a person to pass up on opportunities to succeed in their career illustrates just how life limiting body dissatisfaction can be.
A quarter of men (25%) polled admit to often talking about their appearance negatively. But it’s not just self deprecating; 2 in 5 men report hearing or being involved in negative conversations about their own, or another person’s appearance. This shows how common negative conversations around appearance are and how we are faced with judgement from our peers on a day to day basis.
But what in particular do men dislike about their bodies? Unsurprisingly almost half (47%) of men polled report feeling negatively about or wanting to improve their stomach. Perhaps more surprising is the finding that over a quarter wanted to improve their teeth (27%). This highlights that the ambition to achieve visual perfection reaches outside of just weight issues and shows how every part of a person’s body is open to criticism whether it’s self inflicted or from other people.
Whilst medical help is available to all sufferers of body dysmorphia or eating disorders regardless of gender, it seems that the first step is getting men to open up about how they feel. One way to achieve this is by raising awareness of these disorders in men. Whilst raising awareness would go some way to getting sufferers the right help, it will not eliminate these disorders. In order to achieve this we need a shift in attitudes and a modern culture 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 like would only have positive effects.