‘Man’ception: Do you feel the pressure?

IMI BYERS INVESTIGATES WHY MEN ARE FEELING THE PRESSURE NOW TO GET MUSCLES.

“Ripped”, “hench” and “stacked” are the #bodygoals of most men in the 21st century. But since when did this goal become such an obsession for young men, and what pressures could be contributing to this increasing trend? For females, the pressure from the media to look a certain way  has been well acknowledged and criticised over time, but there seems to be much less publicity about its effects on men.

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Social media such as Facebook and Instagram constantly bombarded us with images like David Beckham’s perfectly defined abs, or Ryan Reynolds’s bulging biceps, with thousands upon thousands of likes attached to them. Subconsciously these types of images contribute to brainwash us into thinking that these photo-shopped creations of men are the norm, and even almost expected of by all of society. Programs such as Geordie Shore and Jersey Shore further promote this kind of body image through their reality stars, who appear to spend whole days in the gym working on their muscles, to then show off later in the evenings squeezed into tight tank tops.

The fitness industry is more booming more than ever with high sales of protein shakes, energy bars and vitamin supplements. Companies are making the most of young men’s dreams to achieve the ‘perfect’ body by almost guilt-tripping them into believing that being in the gym 24/7 is what you “SHOULD” be doing.

This exercise and healthy-eating addiction disorder is known as ‘orthorexia’.  There is sufficient evidence that shows exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, which are also known to be released in other ‘feel-good’ activities (such as eating chocolate and sex). Where is the line that defines a healthy passion to an unhealthy obsession? The national eating disorder service describes the risk signs as:

  • Being unable to concentrate on anything else
  • Still going to the gym despite ill or injured
  • Missing out on other activities to make sure you get your workout
  • Feelings of guilt when unable to carry out your session

Another unhealthy habit that compliments a demanding gym routine is protein and steroid consumption. The NHS does state that in order to gain muscle, these protein supplements aren’t necessary, as a sufficient amount of protein can be consumed in the diet through foods such as eggs, lean meat and dairy products. Supplementary powders and shakes are a convenient way, however, to quickly get a protein fix when those dietary options aren’t available. Nonetheless, long-term effects of consuming too much protein can include kidney damage and osteoporosis – not ideal for the inspiring athlete or sportsperson.


Obviously, restricting to such a controlled regime can also cause serious physiological problems as well as physical. With regards to maintaining a normal social life and career, meals out with friends or co-workers become impossible and this isolation can easily lead to depression, and strong anxiety around certain situations involving food and exercise. A 28 year old male from Boscombe, not willing to be named, reveals how he cannot eat around strangers, and resorts to living off fresh juices made with a blender in his bedroom or ready-made meals eaten in privacy. He also admits that whenever there is a day he cannot go to the gym or do some form of exercise, he does a series of home workouts alone in his room out of guilt such as press-ups and sit-ups until he feels sick.  He says that he believes his destructive routines stem from his insecure body image, and that he feels it is expected for him to have a perfect physique otherwise no-one will take him seriously, both in his work and social life. In reality, this obsession has made progression in both of these fields a fantasy as all of his effort is consumed with this health/fitness obsession.
A concerning issue with these protein and muscle-building substances is that some of these products that are available online may be illegal, and a particular drug found in some of these online supplements named DNP has been shown to be toxic and not fit for human consumption. This body image desperation can turn easily from a healthy hobby to a potential death sentence; and unfortunately this nightmare became a reality for 20 year-old Oli Cooney from West Yorkshire in 2013, when he was found dead as a result of his obsessive steroid-abuse. The drugs he was taking caused him to have 3 strokes and 2 heart attacks, the second heart attack leading him to his death. The effects of this tragedy on his family have been catastrophic as they were not aware of Oli’s secret steroid use.

Of course, there are the many of us who are at a healthy level of fitness commitment – don’t use this article as a reason to stop going! Just be aware of the potential dangers and make sure you do your research before committing to any type of sports supplement – always read the small print!

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