Previous articles I have written on body dysmorphia (distorted body image) and the so called ‘Adonis complex’ is ever more pertinent thanks to new research suggesting that teenage boys that perceive themselves to be skinny, are more likely to be depressed and consequently, use performance enhancing drugs too. This new research goes hand in hand with the exaggerated negative perceptions many people (young and old) have of their bodies, technically known as body/ muscle dysmorphia.
What the study found
The study was recently published by the American Psychological Association (APA) and were clear with their conclusions… ‘Teenage boys who feel they are underweight and report being the victim of bullying are more likely to use steroids and feel depressed than other boys their age’… pretty concerning right? The severity of muscle dysmorphia in young boys is likened to that of anaorexia in young females, and although both of these conditions are plausible in both boys and girls, and men and women, the overwhelming majority of cases of muscle dysmorphia are seen in young boys fitting the above description. Aaron Blashill, PhD explains that generally, ‘teenage girls internalise and strive for a thin appearance, whereas teenage boys tend to emphasise a more muscular body type’. The concern is that many of the boys unable to attain this desirable physique are resorting to rather drastic measures, such as steroid use in order to achieve their goals.
Having followed an accepted, nationally representative, large subject number of 2,139 boys over the course of 13 years. The boys were 16 years of age at the beginning of this study back in 1996, and 13 years down the line were subsequently interviewed to see how they perceived themselves. Turned out the boys that considered themselves to be very underweight, even though they were actually the national average weight or higher, reported the highest levels of depressive symptoms. The boys were surveyed 3 times during the 13 years in order to see how self- perceptions developed by asking them to rate their current weight according to a scale of ‘very underweight’ to ‘very overweight’.
Peer pressure isn’t the only cause of teenagers trying drugs, just like marijuana isn’t the only type of drug these impressionable people try. Performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids are a real concern in recent times, particularly in young boys suffering muscle dysmorphia. Muscle dysmorphia may have nothing to do with their peers in the slightest, yet they may still feel unsettled and uncomfortable with the way they look… enter the quick fix… steroids! In fact, 4% of the studies participants consumed steroids, whilst 3% still felt they were underweight and reported a higher degree of bullying as a consequence. This in turn predicted a higher incidence of steroid use.
With regards to treating boys resorting to steroid use, treatments are scarce, however cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a viable method of treating body dysmorphia and other body image concerns, so this may be an option.
Science Daily, (2014). Fear of being too skinny may put teen boys at risk for depression, steroid use. Retrieved 3rd December, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140113095143.htm
Aaron J. Blashill. A Dual Pathway Model of Steroid Use Among Adolescent Boys: Results From a Nationally Representative Sample.. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 2013; DOI: 10.1037/a0032914
Aaron J. Blashill, Sabine Wilhelm. Body Image Distortions, Weight, and Depression in Adolescent Boys: Longitudinal Trajectories Into Adulthood.. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 2013; DOI: 10.1037/a0034618