Body image is the mental representation we create of what we think we look like; it may or may not bear a close relation to how others actually see us. Body image issues are often treated as if they were only a problem for women (see here for 9 Things on female body images issues). But men suffer from many of the same debilitating problems caused by skewed perceptions of their bodies. Here are nine things you should know about male body image issues:

1. When it comes to weight concerns, a key difference between young men and young women is that females want to be thinner, while males tend to feel pressure to gain weight. “There are some males who do want to be thinner and are focused on thinness,” says Dr. Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, “but many more are focused on wanting bigger or at least more toned and defined muscles. That’s a very different physique.”

2. One common body image problem for men is dissatisfaction with their muscularity (i.e., with having well-developed muscles). Research suggests that exposure to the media ideal of muscularity, and not muscularity per se, elicits body dissatisfaction in men with pre-existing muscularity concerns.

3. According to The Atlantic, even toys contribute to the distorted messages boys receive about the ideal male form. In the last decade or two, action figures have lost a tremendous proportion of fat and added a substantial proportion of muscle. “Only 1 or 2 percent of [males] actually have that body type,” says Dr. Raymond Lemberg, a clinical psychologist and expert on male eating disorders. “We’re presenting men in a way that is unnatural.”

4. Muscle dysmorphia – a pathological preoccupation with muscularity – appears to be a form of body dysmorphic disorder with a focus on muscularity (bodybuilders sometimes refer to this condition as “bigorexia”). One study found that those with muscle dysmorphia were more likely to have attempted suicide, had poorer quality of life, and had a higher frequency of any substance use disorder and anabolic steroid abuse.

5. A national study of adolescent boys published in JAMA Pediatrics found that males with high concerns about thinness but not muscularity were more likely to develop high depressive symptoms. Males with high concerns about muscularity and thinness were more likely than their peers to use drugs, and males with high concerns about muscularity who used supplements and other products to enhance physique were more likely to start binge drinking frequently and using drugs

6. Nationwide, about 4 percent of male high school students have taken steroids without a doctor’s prescription. The prevalence of having ever taken steroids without a doctor’s prescription was higher among Hispanic (4.2 percent) than white (2.8 percent) and black (2.3 percent) students. 

7. A survey in the U.K. found that four out of five men confess to being unhappy about their body. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they would trade a year of their life to achieve their ideal body weight or shape.

8. Research studies have found that approximately 4 percent of male college undergraduates are at risk for an eating disorder. The proportion of the male population estimated to have a condition at some point in their lifetime is 0.3 percent for anorexia nervosa, 0.5 percent bulimia nervosa, and 2.0 percent for binge eating disorder.

9. The only complete way to overcome the problem is to have our beliefs about body image transformed by the Holy Spirit. As Heather Davis Nelson says in the Journal of Biblical Counseling:

In pursuing worldly beauty, we strive to become this elusive image in place of who we really are. You and I are created in the image of the living God. Our purpose is to reflect His image to the world. But since the fall, we let the world inscribe its image on us. It is the very picture of sin and ultimately death. Instead of being transformed to God's image, we conform to the world's image. We are hopelessly stuck in a lifeless cycle, exchanging God for the creature as our object of worship. But God in His mercy rescued us! In love, God sent Jesus Christ to take on the consequences of our idolatrous affair. He became sin so that we might become righteous. In Christ, God gives us freedom from sin's power now and hope for its eradication in heaven. God makes you beautiful with the beauty of His Son, Jesus. It is in gazing at God's image in Jesus Christ that you are transformed. Romans 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, I urge you, (sisters) in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

Other posts in this series:

Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • TGC • Prayer in the Bible • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • C.S. Lewis • Orphans • Halloween and Reformation Day • Down Syndrome •World Hunger • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 6th Street Baptist Church Bombing • 9/11 Attack Aftermath • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Joe Carter


Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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