Media Influence on Muscle Dysmorphia

How does the media influence Muscle Dysmorphia? 

PsychElite Performance

Thomas Regan

What is Muscle Dysmorphia?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has categorised muscle dysmorphia, also known as bigorexia, as a psychopathology disorder. Under the category of an Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders (OCD). The criteria includes: “preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in appearance that are not observable or appear slight to others”(DSM-V). So for example, a bodybuilder, will always ‘measure’ himself in the mirror to see what they need to work on in order for them to look ‘symmetrical.’ In addition, the DSM-V include the person performing repetitive behaviours such as looking in the mirror most of the time, flexing, checking themselves out and comparing themselves to others such as magazines. People with muscle dysmorphia, often having low self-esteem, tend to feel that they are too small and they feel the need to bulk up when in fact they are probably more muscular than the average person.

Is the media apart of the problem?

Muscle dysmorphia is more common in males than in females. As children are becoming increasingly more exposed to it, it could increase the risk of them developing this disorder when they get older. Think about it, how many superheros or big movie stars are not big, jacked and ripped nowadays? There are very few!

When you grew up, Did you want to look like the superheroes and mimic what they did in order to look like them or act like them?

For example, Goku (Dragonball Z) has always been my favourite superhero and, as a kid, i remember trying to do upside down crunches on the bed just like Goku (you know you tried to go Super Saiyan). Even though that was only a cartoon, i watched ‘real life superheroes’ watching WWE. Once i put my brother in a walls of Jericho and probably could have broke his back but i did it because my role models looked cool doing it. We probably did it because we looked up to these wrestlers, superheroes and even athletes. Fast forward in time, i started the gym at 17 because i thought i was a skinny weakling and wanted to get muscular just like the people i grew up admiring. At one point, around 18/19, i got reallly fat because i thought eating more would equate to more muscle mass but how naive and wrong i was.

Think back to the 50s and 60s, how many of the superheros in the earlier days of television were very muscular? John Wayne? Adam West as Batman? George Reeves as Superman? Now compare them to Christian Bale, The Rock and Henry Cevill. It was found in 2001, that images of undressed men increased from 3% in the 1950s to 35% in the 1990’s. My guess is that it is much more now with more adverts, fitness magazines, action movies and with the rise of social media (instagram) would just aid the influences of looking a certain way.

Moreover, toys have also become muscular over time. Pope et al., (1999) found that the figures have grown much more muscular over time, with many contemporary figures far exceeding the muscularity of even the largest human bodybuilders. Even as children, males and females are exposed to the ‘ideal body.’

In addition, media pressure has been found to have a significant contributor to adolescent boys’ muscle building activities (Smolak et al., 2005). This is a problem as many studies have found that exposing men to pictures of muscular men leads to body dissatisfaction (Baird & Grieve, 2006). Moreover, a study conducted by Pope found that adolescent boys wanted body types that were 40lbs more muscular and they perceived their own bodies as much thinner. Not only is this a dangerous perception to have but it could get even worse due to not being able to get away from the exposure at is always around them.


Prevent the early onset of muscle dysmorphia

Firstly, in my personal opinion, i think everybody finds flaws in their bodies. For example: “My nose is too big for my face.” “I want to lose my love handles.” “My arms are too small.” Society makes us think in a certain way and it promotes certain standards of beauty and attractiveness. Most people in Hollywood are good looking and have a lot of money. If we base our perceptions that being good looking = success. Of course people will try and be like these celebrities as they might relate looks with success and popularity.

Secondly, early onset of wanting to use androgenic- anabolic steroids  to try and reach the physiques  in Hollywood and on the Mr.Olympia stage is dangerous. I believe this comes from the media making us feel inadequate and promotes low self-esteem. In 2015, UK consumers spent £66 million on food and drink fitness products (Mintal, 2016). Promoting anything that could potentially help you lose weight, for example, fat burning pills. Just go and do some exercise and eat healthy consistently and you wont need them. Sometimes fat burners even kill people.


In the past, i have fallen foul to this industry by taking MASS gainers as i thought it was get me bigger and stronger alot faster. As i have grew up, i started to see through the supplement industries flaws and knew most of it was BS. However, i fell into this trap because i saw bodybuilders endorsing these supplements and i wanted to be big just like them. Little did i know at the age of 17, most of them probably took some form of anabolic steroid.

If you are a teenager or just getting into fitness,  please look into the product and go onto google scholar to find out if the product is worth taking or not, take the opinions of scientists and not just your regular ‘gym bro.’

There are a few signs to recognise whether you could be falling into muscle dysmorphic tendencies (Leone et al., 2005)

  • Looking into the mirror all the time to check yourself out
  • excessive flexing and looking for negatives in your physique
  • Becoming anxious missing meals and feeling you are not good enough
  • hiding away your body on the beach
  • being in the gym for hours a day
  • skipping out on social commitments such as family parties or social gatherings



If you believe you could have some of these behaviours and they are excessive, go to a professional that can diagnose this for you. What has helped me, is knowing what can be obtained naturally without using excessive amounts of drugs and supplements. In addition, do some research about the subject and what can be obtained naturally. If a person endorses a supplement that has 250lbs of lean muscle mass and tells you it can help you put on alot of muscle, challenge it and make an opinion from scientific fact rather than opinion.

I will leave you with a picture of natural Eric Helms (PhD) of Auckland University of Technology. In my opinion, with hard work and dieting naturally, this will be the standard to aim for. Now think of other self proclaimed naturals and see the differences. Remember to train hard and dont fall into the trap that you are not good enough because you are.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
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.
Pope, H. G., Olivardia, R., Gruber, A., & Borowiecki, J. (1999). Evolving ideals of male body image as seen through action toys. International journal of eating disorders, 26(1), 65-72.
Smolak, L., Murnen, S. K., & Thompson, J. K. (2005). Sociocultural influences and muscle building in adolescent boys. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 6(4), 227.
Baird, A. L., & Grieve, F. G. (2006). Exposure to Male Models in Advertisements Leads to a Decrease in Men’s Body Satisfaction. North American Journal of Psychology, 8(1).

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