The Reality Of Male Body Image: A Closer Look At Male Body Dysmorphic Disorder
These days, images of so-called “ideal” male bodies often seem to dominate our screens, from movie trailers of superheroes with bulging biceps to social media posts of men with flawless skin and chiseled jawlines. These images and messages around appearance don’t operate in a vacuum—they can have a serious effect on a person’s mental and physical well-being.
This article will explore the reality of male body image concerns and delve into the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for BDD in men. Whether you are a concerned friend, family member, or someone who seeks to understand the depths of your own experience, it can be valuable to learn more about male body dysmorphic disorder, what it can look like, and how it can be managed.
Factors affecting male body image
A wide range of factors can affect a person’s body image, or how a person sees and feels about their body. These factors can include a person’s friends, family, peers, past experiences, and culture, as well as messages from the media.
Movies, television shows, and advertisements often feature hyper-idealized versions of beauty and attractiveness, creating unrealistic standards that can be detrimental to male mental health. The traditional idea of masculinity often includes toxic concepts of "dominance" and "power," which can be damaging and may lead some men to seek unrealistic physical goals. Social media often reinforces this skewed image of the "ideal" male body, with filters and photoshopping creating even more unrealistic standards.
The psychological impact of these dynamics can be serious. With all of these pressures and influences, many men may compare themselves to others and feel that they fall short, resulting in low self-esteem and possibly contributing to the development of body dysmorphic disorder.
Understanding male body dysmorphic disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition characterized by a fixation with perceived flaws in appearance that are not obvious to others.
BDD affects how individuals perceive their own bodies, and it can cause significant distress and be disruptive to many areas of a person’s life. The constant preoccupation with physical imperfections can lead to compulsive behaviors such as excessive grooming, body checking, and seeking reassurance from others. For some people, the negative self-image may also lead to avoidance of social situations. People with BDD may also be more likely to have other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. Left untreated, BDD can lead to serious physical and mental health consequences.
BDD can affect people of any gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Some of these aspects of a person’s identity may also have an effect on a person’s experience with BDD. For instance, one research study examined the differences between men and women with body dysmorphic disorder, and it found that men were more concerned about muscularity and body build compared to women. This form of BDD is called muscle dysmorphia, which can involve a person fixating on the idea that their body build is too small or not muscular enough, and it tends to be more common in men.
In addition, harmful narratives around men seeking help as a sign of “weakness” may also create additional barriers for men with BDD. Open conversations and education can help to reduce the stigma and open the door for more men to seek treatment.
Symptoms and treatment of body dysmorphic disorder
Body dysmorphic disorder can involve a range of signs and symptoms, and it may look different from one person to the next. Some of the common signs of BDD can include:
- An obsession with appearance or physical features
- Excessive mirror-checking or avoidance of mirrors
- Compulsive behaviors such as skin-picking or hair-pulling
- Low self-esteem and feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness
- Strong desire for cosmetic surgery or other treatments
- Social isolation or a fear of being judged by others
Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder may deny their condition or be unaware of how far-reaching its effects can be. As BDD progresses, the symptoms you experience may be more severe. For example, someone with BDD may find themselves relying on protein supplements or other performance-enhancing drugs to increase muscle mass. As the disorder worsens, more extreme measures may be taken to alter physical appearance, such as plastic surgery or dermatological treatments. When left untreated, male BDD can lead to severe physical and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and addiction.
It can be important to seek help if you think you may be experiencing BDD. Treatment for BDD commonly includes therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used for individuals with BDD, and it may help you learn how to challenge negative thoughts about your appearance, adopt new ways to handle body image-related urges, and incorporate healthier behaviors.
You can connect with a therapist for support with BDD in person or online. For some men with BDD, the stigma of seeking help for this disorder may make the thought of going into a busy office for a face-to-face appointment feel intimidating. With online therapy, you can receive treatment from the comfort of your own home, which may feel easier and less intimidating for some people.
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for BDD for many different people. For instance, one research study examined the effectiveness of an internet-based, therapist-guided CBT program for body dysmorphic disorder for people from different countries. The study included patients from nine different countries, and it found that the online therapy program was associated with “a large reduction of BDD symptoms at post-treatment and follow-up”—demonstrating that online therapy can be effective for BDD for people from many different cultures.
In addition, friends and family can play an important role in supporting someone with BDD by offering emotional support, helping to create a safe space for dialogue, and educating themselves on the disorder. By normalizing conversations about mental health, you can help to reduce the stigma around seeking help and make it easier for those living with male BDD to seek help and receive treatment. Support groups can also be helpful in providing social support and understanding from those who have been through similar experiences.
With the right combination of professional treatment and social support, those living with BDD can learn to manage their symptoms and begin reclaiming their life.
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