Negative Body Image for Men: A Growing Problem

Believe it or not, a negative body image is not just a woman's problem. Increasingly, men are dissatisfied with one or more parts of their body. The media and a culture obsessed with perfection have defined what men and women are supposed to look like. In reality, few people-even models-meet those high, exacting standards. Unfortunately, some men will go to extremes to change their body based on unrealistic perceptions.

A negative self image, or fixation on perceived body flaws, can take a toll on a man's mental and physical health. Unfortunately, men tend not to discuss their concerns about body image. Their self-imposed silence leads to feelings of isolation, distress, depression, and anxiety. They are at increased risk for abusing anabolic steroids, which can lead to serious health problems. Eating orders in men are on the rise as well, and poor body image effects men's sexual well-being, potentially leading to aggressive or risky sexual behavior.

Mental health professionals call this disturbed body image dysmorphic disorder, or dysmorphophobia. Men who have muscle dysmorphia believe they are scrawny, especially in their abs, chest, shoulders, and arms. Despite excessive exercise, they don't believe they can build big muscles, much like people with anorexia believe that no matter how much they diet, they are still too fat.

In addition to muscle mass, men tend to fixate on several body zones.

  • Skin, usually due to acne or scarring
  • Thinning head hair
  • Body hair
  • Body odor and sweat
  • Nose size and shape
  • Genitals

You just can't change some things, at least not without surgery. However, simply eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can give men a sense of control over their body image and instill feelings of well- being. Although six-pack abs might not be realistic, men can build abdominal muscle through exercise, which will also help shed abdominal fat. Exercise and fat loss together can improve the appearance of flabby abs. When lifting weights to build arm and shoulder muscles, men shouldn't neglect the triceps, the muscle in the back of the upper arm. Men need to work both biceps (the large muscle in front) and the triceps to create well-balanced muscle mass.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of psychotherapy, can help men develop realistic views of their appearance and to engage in positive, instead of critical, behaviors. In severe cases, antidepressants may help.


Silva, Marc A. "Body Image Dissatisfaction: A Growing Concern Among Men." Newsletters for Mental Health. Web. April 2006.

Gregor, Steven. "The man behind the mask: male body image dissatisfaction." InPsych June 2004. Web.

MSNBC. "Guys have body issues, too." Web. 6 October 2006.

Phillips, Katharine, A. and Castle, David J. "Body dysmorphic disorder in men." BMJ 323(7320) (2001): 1015-1016. Web. "Males and Eating Disorders." Web.