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The Social View of Muscle Dysmorphia Essay

Body image disorders are often associated with women. Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia are the most known eating disorders related to body distortion. However, a new disorder is increasing among men especially after the release of Arnold Shwarzenegger’s famous film ‘Pumping Iron’ that exposed Bodybuilding to the world in the end of the 70’s known as Muscle Dysmorphia (Mosley, 2009). It is defined as a continue obsession with muscularity (Olivardia, 2001). The majority of people that suffer from this disorder are bodybuilders – this was dominated by men but recently more women are practicing this kind of body shaping. Therefore, there were many athletes that developed the symptoms of Muscle Dismorphia that has been increasing (Leone, Sedory & Gray, 2005).

Like every eating and body image disorder, Muscle Dysmorphia has several causes and consequences on the social side. Studies showed interests and analysis made to further understand this unknown new disease (Olivardia, 2001). Similarly to Anorexia nervosa, Muscle Dysmorphia is related to dissatisfactions of body images expressed by men. Olivardia states that this dissatisfaction is often due to overweight or underweight explaning that increasing the musculature permit to the overweight to lose weight and to the underweight to gain more (Furnham & Calnan, 1998). Thus, the desire of modifying one’s shape is clearly dictated by certain social norms that take place progressively in our daily folkways.

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So there is a clear relationship between norms and Muscle Dismorphia. According to Grieve et al, another major factor of Muscle Dysmorphia is the body distortion (Grieve, Truba & Bowersox, 2009). There are some people that perceive themselves to be smaller or bigger than what they really are. This misperception people have on themselves influence their body dissatisfaction, and the opposite way is true (Olivardia, 2001). This low self-esteem makes people react and act in order to improve their appearances by making the looking-glass self of these individuals only focusing on their appearances reflecting other etiological factors like low self-esteem (Grieve, Truba & Bowersox, 2009). So the ‘Me’ and the ‘I’ are clearly affected by this view towards low body acceptance and eventually aftected by muscle dysmorphia.

In 2006, a study deducted by Tager, Good and Morrison sought to examine the role of media in Muscle Dysmorphia. The study revealed that: “media plays an influential role in both the perceived self-worth and the development of muscle dysmorphia in men” (Grieve, Truba & Bowersox, 2009). Another study was published in 2002 by Leit, Gray and Pope stating: “exposure to muscular male figures in advertisement produced measurable body dissatisfaction in men” (Leit, Gray & Pope, 2002). In fact, Mass media imposes a cultural ideal male body shape image that is not realistic and when compared with real people’s bodies, a huge gap is created between realistic body shapes and the ideal images from the media leading to an increase of the dissatisfaction cited above.

Both studies focused on Media, which was portrayed the perfect ideal muscular pattern through social institutions that builds the social norms of a society and changes individual’s perceptions. Thereby, boys and men are subject to a pressure exercised by advertisements, toys, peers, and family in order to conform to the culturally constructed ideals that leads to muscle dysmorphia (Grieve, 2007). The last social factor that can lead to muscle dysmorphia is the ideal body internalization. In fact, as it is said above, the pattern of the ideal body is depicted by social institutions, and the internalization of the perfect body is aligned with the acceptance of this ideal.

The culturally ideal shape is the one that is mesomorphic (Grieve, 2007). It further means having broad shoulders, thin waist, and obvious clear muscles. Furthermore, muscularity and morphotypes have to deal with the individual’s nature and the internalization of this nature features leads often to a disorder, that is expressed here as muscle dysmorphia. According to Grieve, Truba and Bowersox, there is a “positive relationship” between ideal body internalization and body dissatisfaction, which means that “the more people have internalized and adopted the culturally ideal body, the more body dissatisfaction they will experience” (Grieve, Truba & Bowersox, 2009). So, internalization is linked to the other factors that lead to the disorder.

Concerning the social repercussion on the person suffering, this last often adopts impaired behaviors by experiences a deterioration of social and intimate relationships because of the harsh scheduling of the routine and the diet. Thus, this meticulous lifestyle might lead to the use of inappropriate or illegal supplements, such as steroids which can deteriorate the individual’s humor and social interaction and create health problems such as hormonal imbalance that is a decrease of the heart’s size and an increase in the blood pressure (Olivardia, 2001).

To sum up, body dissatisfaction related to body distortion, low self-esteem and ideal body internalization, is mixed with the role of social institutions in shaping the norms of the society that are the main causes of muscle dysmorphia. The social consequences of this disease are social isolation, deterioration of the individual’s social interaction, and the resort to illegal and dangerous supplements.


Crocker, J. (2002). The Costs of Seeking Self–Esteem. Journal Of Social Issues, 58(3), 597-615. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.00279

Furnham, A., & Calnan, A. (1998). Eating disturbance, self-esteem, reasons for exercising and body weight dissatisfaction in adolescent males.European Eating Disorders Review, 6(1), 58-72.

Grieve, F. G., Truba, N., & Bowersox, S. (2009). Etiology, Assessment, and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia. Journal Of Cognitive Psychotherapy,23(4), 306-314. doi:10.1891/0889-8391.23.4.306

Grieve, F. G. (2007). A Conceptual Model of Factors Contributing to the Development of Muscle Dysmorphia. Eating Disorders, 15(1), 63-80. doi:10.1080/10640260601044535

Leit, R. A., Gray, J. J., & Pope Jr., H. G. (2002). The Media’s Representation of the Ideal Male Body: A Cause for Muscle Dysmorphia?. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 31(3), 334-338.

Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders. Journal Of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352-359.

Mosley, P. E. (2009). Bigorexia: bodybuilding and muscle dysmorphia. European Eating Disorders Review, 17(3), 191-198. doi:10.1002/erv.897

Olivardia, R. (2001). Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Largest of Them
All? The Features and Phenomenology of Muscle Dysmorphia. Harvard Review Of Psychiatry, 9(5), 254.

Tager, D., Good, G. E., & Morrison, J. (2006). Our Bodies, Ourselves Revisited: Male Body Image and Psychological Well-Being. International Journal Of Men’s Health, 5(3), 228-237.

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