My Two Cents on Body Dysmorphia in Bodybuilding
By Carmen Grange
I read an article recently that spoke out about body dysmorphia in the bodybuilding community and it really had me thinking about what people go through in preparing for show (both mentally and physically) and how one person’s experience can be much different from another’s. When I saw the title of the article I was intrigued about how exactly bodybuilding had the potential to ruin a person’s life. The opening paragraph in this article briefly spoke about a girl’s experience with her diet and being restricted to only 700 kcals per day. I was blown away. There is no reason, ever, to be on a crash diet such as hers. 700 kcals per day is starving. Not figuratively…literally. So, I was angered. How could this person bash the sport that I’ve grown to love so much by categorizing everyone’s experience like the experience of this one competitor? It isn’t realistic. While it does happen, it’s not the norm.
I think the problem is that young girls, especially nowadays, grow up idealizing famous figures. Famous women who have, often times, taken to drastic measures to appease the press, spectators, and critics are being viewed as the norm, when in reality, they may be significantly unhealthy both mentally and physically as well. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to look up to someone but what I am saying is that no two people are built the same and it’s never okay to willingly take to starvation to achieve a goal, especially while sacrificing your health. Our present society is prone to body dysmorphia more than ever as a result of the media, but what we have to realize is that whatever shape we come in is beautiful and whatever shape we want to be is feasible but let’s do it in the right way.
If competing in a bodybuilding show is your goal, I say go for it. I initially did it because I grew up a quitter and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something without quitting. It was my very first show and while I don’t know the exact values on my macronutrient intake, I can easily say that I was ingesting at least 1,800 kcals per day. Which was great for my height, weight, and age. I wasn’t the leanest on stage and I certainly did not have the best musculature but I lost about 14 lbs in 12 weeks before cutting water whilst eating protein, fats, and…(dare I say it) CARBS. My cardio was minimal and my workouts were not dreadful. Every competition, I’ve gotten better. Stronger, leaner, confident…the list goes on.
So what is body dysmorphia?
It is a psychological disorder that makes people feel like their body is never good enough. Never good enough, lean enough, tall enough, curvy enough. Both men and women experience this phenomenon but of course it’s mostly talked about when dealing with the female sex because society says it’s okay for men to want to be bigger and stronger, but it’s taboo for a woman. Like body dysmorphia, muscle dysmorphia is a condition in which one views themselves as being lesser than what they truly are, but in this case…being smaller than they truly are. Many bodybuilders have a phobia about having too little muscle, and they often turn to unnatural remedies to discount those feelings of being too small in their own view.
In the sport of bodybuilding, contentment with one’s own physique doesn’t seem to occur because bodybuilders are constantly setting higher goals for themselves. This obsession with perfectionism is often accompanied by negative feelings of self and tends to lead to other health problems. Muscle dysmorphia and poor eating habits are two issues that may arise within the bodybuilding culture: females are often worried about losing weight, while males are typically worried about putting on more weight. Because of this difference, female competitors are often plagued with characteristics associated with anorexia while male competitors may often fall victim to reverse anorexia, and/or muscle dysmorphia.
So why do I tell you all of this? Well, I say it to say that just about anything is possible (even willingly starving yourself into nearly withering away). But, and more importantly, there are better ways to prepare for a show. There are some amazing coaches out there who really know what they’re doing and truly have your best interest at heart in addition to collecting a check. If you’re a 145 lb woman and your coach puts you on a 700 kcal diet (or…let’s be honest: you restrict yourself to that kind of diet) for 8 weeks in addition to 1.5 hour workouts and 3 hours of cardio, you’ve got the wrong guy. Don’t sacrifice your health for a competition, especially when there’s always another one, even if you may be experiencing body/muscle dysmorphic tendencies. Why nearly kill yourself to step on stage in March with a diet/workout like the one I’ve just talked about when you could simply wait to do a show until June? To me, that just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t speak for the rest of the bodybuilding community, but I can say that I have personally struggled with my weight my entire life. I never looked the way I wanted until I started competing. And even then, I wanted more. I can say that I experience both body dysmorphia and muscle dysmorphia but I’ve never let that state of mind take hold of me in such a way that I was preparing for a show in an unhealthy manner. I have a coach who cares about me, my future, and my health and who works with my body discomfort to still achieve a killer look on stage. So, don’t let your negative feelings of self get in the way of achieving your goals. And don’t let coaches just looking to make a dime comprise your health. While the long road is sometimes the harder one to travel, it’ll feel better and you’ll look better in the end.
Mangwenth, B., Pope, Jr., H. G., Kemmler, G., Ebenbichler, C., Hausmann, A., De Col, C., Kreutner, B., Kinzle, J., & Biebl, W. (2001). Body image and psychopathology in male bodybuilders. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 70(1), 38-43. doi:10.1159/000056223)
Peters, M. A., & Phelps, L. (2001). Body image dissatisfaction and distortion, steroid use, and sex differences in college age bodybuilders. Psychology in the School, 38(3), 283-289. doi:10.1002/pits.1018
Pope, H. G., Katz, D. L., & Hudson, J. I. (1993). Anorexia nervosa and “reverse anorexia” among 108 male bodybuilders. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 34(6), 406-409. doi: 10.1016/0010-440X(93)90066-D