A recent article exposed a shocking fact cited by child health experts: boys as young as 13 are taking steroids to get the ''six-pack'' physique of their sporting heroes.
Clinical psychologist Rita Princi says that body image has become so important that teenage boys are prepared to risk their health by taking steroids if it helps to make them appear more attractive.
''Boys are wanting that buff, manly body and believe that one way to obtain it is to take steroids,'' Ms Princi said. ''They are getting too focused on what they look like rather than who they are.''
University of Sydney child health researcher Jenny O'Dea said she conducted a 2002 study that found teenage boys had started using steroids or were buying pills from a gym or drug dealer to ''bulk up''. "In many ways boys are under more pressure than girls because the girls' task is to be slim but the boys' task is to be slim and then build up muscle,'' Dr O'Dea said.
My book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues exposes a disturbing trend amongst guys being the belief they do not have big enough muscles. A person suffering anorexia thinks 'no matter how much I restrict food, exercise or purge I'm not thin enough', whereas a person suffering muscle dysmorphia thinks 'no matter how much I work out, or how many steroids or muscle-enhancing supplements I take, I can't build enough muscle mass'. As a result, males can develop an obsession with lifting weights in their quest to obtain a muscular physique.
According to Dr Murray Drummond of the University of South Australia, muscle dysmorphia is associated with the drive for muscularity. "Because muscles are created by physical effort, if males want to attain the desired physique, they have to consciously go out and try to achieve it," he says.
Because it is socially and culturally acceptable for guys to undertake a lot of physical activity, body dissatisfaction can often go unnoticed by family and friends. Worse, the behaviours could be encouraged. Working out at the gym is 'healthy'; however working out to mask feelings of inadequacy is not.
Misuse of anabolic steroids can cause cardiac, liver and renal problems and lead to severe mood swings.
As always, we need to be vigilant and watch for warning signs to help the males we love who may be suffering low self esteem and a negative body image. Warning signs include an overaggressive approach to fitness, following dietary programs to the extreme, an increased interest in fitness magazines and a change in eating habits. This can be triggered by childhood bullying, difficulties dealing with being gay, low self esteem due to issues during childhood such as emotional or sexual abuse and parental strictness, especially from a father.
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