The Adonis Complex: Muscle Dysmorphia Disorders

painting-adonis
This painting of Adonis shows how the cultural values of physical size for men and women change over the centuries

While it is not a medical term, “Adonis Complex” has been utilized to describe a variety of body image disorders that have been affecting mostly teen and adult males, especially in recent decades. It collectively describes all body image distortions, instead of individual ones. The term was taken from Greek mythology, which depicted Adonis as half god and half man who was considered the ultimate in masculine beauty.  According to mythology, his body was so beautiful that he won the love the Aphrodite, goddess of love.

The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) describes Muscle Dysmorphia (MD) as an obsession with muscularity and leanness. “This obsession results in a fear that someone is too small and may lead to such behaviors such as compulsive weightlfting and dietary restraint.” Those who suffer from MD are usually recognized as dedicated weight trainers due to the frequency and duration that they lift weights. There are anecdotal reports that some individuals with MD work out 5-6 hours per day and spend another 6 hours per day thinking about strategies to gain muscle mass. 

That’s do-able.

Until recently, distortion of one’s body image was primarily thought of as a female issue. In the past decade or so, there have been an increasing number of studies done concerning the issues of male body image and muscle dysmorphia. It has been shown that men are the main demographic that suffer from this disorder, although women still do make up a large percentage. There is a difference between being a dedicated weightlifter, and someone who suffers from DM. Simply being dedicated to weightlifting, having a healthy physique, or caring about ones diet does not make up the range of symptoms that indicate DM. 

Some of the symptoms

Like the chart states, simply being dedicated to weightlifting and body image is not sufficient. One’s social life, career, marital activities etc… must also be affected in a negative way, just like any other mental disorder.

Sufferers may spend more than 30 minutes daily preoccupied with thoughts that they were too small or insufficiently muscular, avoiding social situation for fear of appearing too small, or refusing to appear shirtless in public. They also give up all social activities as a result of this preoccupation.

Some of the causes of MD are though to the bullying/teasing at a young age, family disharmony, severe stress, and negative focus of mass culture that promotes an idealized body. When a person has a negative perception of their internal body image, it can influence the external represented appearance. This can trigger processing ones self as an aesthetic object, resulting in negative internal body image. Basically, not only are people sensitive to bodily cues, they are threatened by them.

I personally think that a lot of body image issues are, of course, to blame on things like muscle magazines and Photoshopped images. Whether professional bodybuilders are using steroids or not, I don’t care, but it is ridiculous to think that the average impressionable teen can look like a guy with exploding muscles on a magazine cover, simply by following a dumbbell routine and taking a magic supplement. As you may have guessed, I am all for lifting big, eating big, and getting big. I am currently trying to add about 25 pounds. The difference is that I am not trying to get cut up and it is not taking over my whole life. I am lifting a total of about 6 hours a week, and between two jobs, a marriage, school, and living life, I simply don’t spend that much time worrying about my body image. 

If you feel that you are suffering from some of the symptoms, you may want to look into different forms of treatment because no matter how big you get, you will still be small and weak in your own eyes.

Sources:

Recognition and Treatment of Muscle Dysmorphia and Related Body Image Disorders

James E Leone, Edward J Sedory, and Kimberly A Gray

American Boys and Body Image: A Review of Weight Gain and Weight Loss Perspectives

McCall, Gretta D. MEd, LPCI; Williams, Joel E. MPH, PhD; Schmalz, Dorothy L. PhD; Miller, Ryan J. BA

Eating Disorders: Muscle Dysmorphia in Men

  • There is also some really good data showing that these super males are not rated as attractive by hot girls. Just like super skinny girls, even though they think so, are not rated as good looking. Mental illnesses suck! great post!