Body Dysmorphia

Latest News Thursday, 29 Aug 2019

When Star Wars first appeared on the big screen, there were naturally many figurines made, as there always are, to monetise the merchandise. Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, was one such figurine, and if you look at this on line, you’ll see an average framed guy resembling not only Ford himself but what must have been 80% of the population at the time. The latest iteration of the Han Solo figurine is much bulkier. He looks a bit more like GI Joe or one of the Power Rangers. Much like the Barbie dolls that are distorted representations of women, boys’ figurines are similarly being questioned as one leading source of boys’ body dissatisfaction.

(There is no need to question whether Barbie’s body shape is unrealistic. Researchers have reminded us that her proportions would occur in less than 1 in 100,000 adult women, and that her waist is 20cm smaller than a reference group of anorexic patients; and that, with these proportions, she would not be able to menstruate or even hold up her head. (The Conversation 2014)).

Many of the boys’ figurines look like a condom stuffed with walnuts. They too represent an image of a man’s body that is unrealistic and yet increasingly portrayed as ‘manly’ and thus aspirational. Taking care of oneself and doing weight work is a natural healthy component of any workout regimen. However, when does this become obsessive and slide into body dysmorphia and dangerous practices? What does the need to build one’s body to unattainable proportions say about the insecurities of the man within?

There have been many stories over the years about body dysmorphia and particularly how this condition is impacting on young adolescent men. Anabolic steroid use and social media have promoted weird underworld of admirers. ( eg. Bodybuilder Aziz Sergeyevich who died comes to mind).

There was an interesting article in the Guardian (available here) ‘Gym, eat, repeat: the shocking rise of muscle dysmorphia’ which sadly depicted the rise of dysmorphia amongst boys and men and the cycle of unhealthy habits, including anorexia, that debilitate them. The article referenced a study published in June found that 22% of men aged 18-24 reported muscularity-oriented disordered eating and steroid abuse. Individuals with muscle dysmorphia feel they need to become bigger or more muscular, regardless of their size. Hollywood has glamorised and idealised men’s images and boys’ figurines have become much more bulky but it would be all too easy to blame these factors alone. Doctors do not yet know what causes body dysmorphia disorders but genetics, a chemical imbalance in the brain or a traumatic experience in one’s past may play a part. And being bullied is also a factor and there can be an obvious element of OCD.

I also believe there are more young men than ever who feel a sense of isolation within. They are stranded on their own internal island of uncertainty and pressure. Many of these young men have been brought up on porn and skewed images of masculinity and define their manhood not by who they are but by how they appear. 

They have a false belief nurtured in a self-obsessed society that young women would prefer them to be ultra-muscular and dopey. Many of them see themselves as a star in their own live movie and present themselves (particularly on social media) as self-centred and ego-driven.

What would I do if I were a parent of a young child now? I would not ban toys but I’d certainly have conversations around how unrealistic the toys can be compared to ‘real’ men and woman. I’d make sure I had conversations around what it means to be a ‘good’, loving man and how this is far more appealing to women and settling for relationships. And I’d want any young child to like who he is and know that there is a diversity of different men and hence bodies all of which are acceptable.


  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental illness characterised by constant worrying over a perceived or slight defect in appearance.
  • Repetitive behaviours are performed in response to these concerns about appearance.
  • Treatment includes cognitive behaviour therapy and antidepressant drugs. (An excellent medical definition can be found here)
  • BDD usually starts in the teenage years, when concern over physical appearance is common.

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