TORONTO — It’s no secret that societal expectations can have an impact on young people and how they view themselves. As a result, young boys and men are engaging in risky behaviors like strenuous muscle-building exercises and steroids in order to fit into the standard of being lean and muscular. For many, there is the mindset that they are never big enough or strong enough. The dangerous condition is better known as muscle dysmorphia.
“Consistent with prior research, we found that boys and men presented with greater symptoms and behaviors of muscle dysmorphia,” says lead author Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, MSW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, in a media release. “This finding continues to emphasize that boys and men are influenced by and are striving for a muscular body and experiencing psychological and social distress as a result.”
The team conducted their work by analyzing over 2,000 participants, drawing data from the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors. They specifically found that one in four young boys and young adult men were clinically at risk for developing muscle dysmorphia. Additionally, symptoms of it were more commonly noted in those who reported steroid use, which are a dangerous alternative for quickly putting on muscle mass.
The study also looked at differences among sexual identities and racial/ethnic groups. White and Middle Eastern or South Asian participants were more likely to show symptoms of dysmorphia. Participants that identified sexually as something other than heterosexual also showed more symptoms.
“Overall, our findings emphasize that many young people are striving for muscularity, resulting in significant levels of distress, which counters popular narratives that only thinness-oriented body image concerns and behaviors are problematic,” says Ganson. “We need to incorporate muscle dysmorphia symptoms into future conversations around body image and eating disorders, particularly given the likely rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The team also mentions that there is a need for greater awareness among those in healthcare on this topic and how it may present, in order to improve assessment and intervention strategies. In society, there is ample research and available resources for body dysmorphia geared toward women and girls, but not as much for boys and men. As such, they agree that there should be more of an effort to raise public health awareness and start prevention campaigns that include muscle dysmorphia as well.
The findings are in the journal Body Image.