Feeling Small? You Might Have Muscle Dysmorphia!

Mental health experts have learned that it is very likely that you could be sick and suffering from a Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) called Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia.

How many times have you gone into the gym and seen "Mr. Body Beautiful" checking himself out in the mirror obsessively viewing his reflection over and over and over? Narcistic freak or what? Although he may be a conceited jerk, mental health experts have learned that it is very likely that this guy is sick and suffering from a Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) called Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia.

What Is Muscle Dysmorphia?

Muscle Dysmorphia is a condition that afflicts at least 10% of male bodybuilders in top physical shape who are chronically worried that they look puny and obsess about being too small and underdeveloped. It is estimated that 1 out of every 50 bodybuilders feels small no matter how much they work out or how muscular they are.

Harrison G. Pope Jr. MD, McLean Psychiatric Research Leader in Belmont Massachusetts, describes Muscle Dysmorphia as a sort of reverse anorexia nervosa where these muscular men will look in the mirror and see themselves as out of shape. Their constant preoccupation with smallness will make them exceedingly self-conscious not allowing them to relax and enjoy life without worrying about how other people may be seeing, criticizing and perceiving their smallness.

For decades, women have suffered psychological disorders because of society's idealistic view of a "Barbie-doll" and/or runway model female. It seems that men might be starting to suffer from these cultural messages, too. According to the Cosmetic Surgery Resource, out of 2.1 million cosmetic procedures in 1999, 400,000 were chosen by men. A McLean Hospital Study published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders followed the evolving physiques of action toys over the last 30 years.

"It is estimated that 1 out of every 50 bodybuilders feels small no matter how much they work out or how muscular they are."

The study revealed that "GI Joe" from the 1960's had the equivalent of an 11-½ inch bicep while today's "GI Joe Extreme" has the equivalent of a 26-inch bicep! Maybe 40 years of good diet and hard training can put serious muscle mass on or is this representative of pump and pose products on the market today?

Either way messages of big, strong and muscular male physiques are represented all over in magazines, advertisements, television, etc. It seems that the ideal "sex symbol" male body style of today has blown up into a rippling physique with massive muscles (Rambo, WWF, Terminator) than previous "sex symbols" like James Dean, Tarzan or John Wayne.

What Are BDD's?

BDD's (Body Dysmorphic Disorders) were defined and classified in 1987 and have been disrupting the lives of millions of boys and men beginning as early as 13 years of age. The prevalence of these disorders makes one question the root of this evil. McLean's Research Team has hypothesized that the appearance of anabolic steroids and the empowerment of women could be the reasons why men are now suffering from BDD's.

Anabolic steroids began widespread usage in the 1970's and 80's creating leaner and more muscular physiques than any naturally occurring man (Yesalis, 1993). Men aren't the solo-providers of families anymore and compete with women in all occupational facets. However, most women cannot bench press over 300 pounds thus creating a new differentiator for men to show their strength and superiority in some way.

Perhaps the greatest incubator of Muscle Dysmorphia is its secrecy. Too many people are not aware that such a disease exists and greatly affects bodybuilders. While there is nothing wrong with being competitive and striving to be the best that you can be, there are unhealthy borders that can be crossed and need to be recognized.

If you find that you are regularly dissatisfied with your physical appearance, constantly reviewing your body for flaws, excessively look in the mirror, try to camouflage your body with baggy clothing, consistently think you are too small, frequently look into plastic surgery, miss work, school or social engagements because of your obsessive thoughts about your appearance then you may be suffering from a BDD.

It is not healthy to continually be unhappy with your appearance and to constantly be thinking about your appearance. People suffering from BDD's have been treated with counseling, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, support groups and anti-depressants. Since BDD's have only been identified since the late 80's there are limited studies and published research on the success of treatment. Continued treatment has led to 70% of noted cases overcoming their illness and achieving healthy body images. You may also want to purchase the Body Image Workbook by Thomas F. Cash, Ph.D

If you feel that you may be suffering from a BDD, the first step towards a healthy body image is recognizing that you have a problem. Secondly, it is important to understand that you are not alone and there are many qualified people around to assist you. You may contact your general practitioner or local hospital to seek out any of the above listed treatments.


Muscle Dysmorphia-bodybuilding gone amuck. Doctor's Guide(1997).
Pope HG Jr, Katz DL (1994), Psychiatric and medical effects of anabolic-androlgenic steroids, A controlled study of 160 athletes. Arch Gen Psychiatry 51(5):375-382.
Pope HG Jr, Olivardia R, Gruber A, Borowiecki J ( 1999) Evolving ideals of male body image as seen through action toys.Int J Eat Dis 26 (1): 65-72.
Yesalis CE, ed (1993) Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics Publisher.

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