The Adonis complex?

There needs to be more awareness of male self-esteem (Illustration by Susan Kim/The Weal)
There needs to be more awareness of male self-esteem (Illustration by Susan Kim/The Weal)

Pressure for perfection causes low self-esteem in men, too

Amanda Siebert
The Weal

CALGARY (CUP) — As images of rippled muscles and hourglass figures flood every aspect of western culture, it’s no surprise that pressure to fit Hollywood’s physical ideals plagues both males and females.

Though we have seen much research citing these ideals as the reason for low self-esteem in women, new research shows that an overwhelming number of men are being negatively affected by society’s pressure to look a certain way.

In a recent study conducted by medical journal, JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that an increasing number of young males (17.9 per cent) had an unhealthily high concern towards their body image. In many cases, these concerns led to a whole host of psychological and behavioural repercussions, including, but not limited to, depression, future drug abuse and eating disorders.

Another study conducted by the University of West England showed that four in five men have body image issues, while 38 per cent of men said that they would “sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.”

So what does the perfect man look like, and why are some men willing to give up a year of their life to look that way?

Think of Barbie and G.I. Joe: While the ‘perfect’ woman sports long legs, perky breasts, and a tiny waist, the perfect man dons six-pack washboard abs, bulging biceps, and a manhood to go along with them. Open an issue of G.Q. or Men’s Health and it’s no surprise why more and more men are striving to reach this borderline-unattainable level of vanity (veiled as health, of course) which some refer to as “the Adonis complex.”

The lengths that some men go to in an attempt to achieve these ideals are becoming increasingly risky. Where supplements, performance enhancing drugs and steroids were once reserved for athletes and body builders,JAMA Pediatrics’s study showed that boys as young as 12 years of age are now turning to similar muscle-building products.

Another study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that up to 40 per cent of teenage boys use protein powders, while an alarming six per cent use steroids. Another study published in the Sport Medical Journal found that up to 30 per cent of Canadian adolescents have tried a form of anabolic steroids.

The problem with this obsession lies not in the obsession itself, but in society’s general lack of awareness and consideration. Most men know that making a judgmental comment about a woman’s body to her face is generally a no-no, but are we as considerate of men in this respect?

If men are meant to achieve Adonis-like bodies, then they should have personalities to match: strong, hard and unaffected, which is why it remains “acceptable” for men to be criticized regardless of how they may be affected.

According to a study conducted by Bridgewater State University, the discussion of male body image has been taboo for quite some time for this very reason. Like the stereotype of the man that won’t ask for directions, pride gets in the way of the well-being of many men, and many suffer from low self-esteem in silence because they fear that their masculinity will be questioned if they seek help.

It’s time that we recognize and address issues with body image on a more even scale. We have seen a shift, albeit a small one, in the way that women are perceived because female celebrities and public figures are speaking out against the pressure that is put on women to pursue a Barbie-like body.

Until we see men of such stature addressing this situation on a public scale, it is important that we remember that any cultural shift starts small.

Next time you feel like making a comment about your buddy’s beer gut, your younger brother’s spindly legs or your uncle’s receding hairline, think twice. It is up to us to change the ideals.


The Adonis complex?