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Bigorexia, the undiscovered eating disorder

A thin celebrity on the red carpet. A gaunt model on the runway. A fragile figure on your newsfeed. In current society we are aware of the existence of eating disorders. We are aware of the negative influence of the media on body image, eating behaviour and self-esteem. However, the examples given above demonstrate potential cases of anorexia or bulimia. They focus predominantly – though by no means exclusively – on the female sphere of body image issues. But there is little coverage or knowledge of a predominantly male disorder, bigorexia.

Bigorexia, officially titled muscle dysmorphia, is a preoccupation with not being sufficiently muscular or lean. It can involve a compulsive comparing and checking of one’s physique, disordered eating, including excessive protein supplements, and significant distress or mood swings. It has also been colloquially termed ‘reverse anorexia’, because the focus is on muscularity, not thinness.

Shockingly, sufferers from muscle dysmorphia spend on average over 5 and a half hours every day thinking about their muscles and body size. What’s more, it is estimated that 1 in 10 men who attend the gym develop muscle dysmorphia. With these striking statistics, it leads one to question, why have we not heard of muscle dysmorphia before now?

While journalists and body positivity influencers hit back against industry giants and cartoon producers for creating female characters that are getting more and more thin, resulting in cartoons having ‘the kind of proportions that would make Barbie look chunky’. Might we need to question more, as The Telegraph does, why few people have noticed Luke Skywalker’s body transformation?

Or, perhaps even Wolverine’s transformation from the first X-Men until now?

It is important to note that eating disorders are not exclusive to any one gender. Bulimia and anorexia are not exclusively female, nor is bigorexia exclusively male. And true enough, this article has not yet extended the body image discussion beyond cis-gendered body types. Why? Because it is likely that stereotypical gender norms are the problem.

We live in a society where gender is commonly seen as binary. Men are typecast as strong, large and dominant, while women are gentle, petite and slender. Men who aren’t robust or resilient are told to ‘man up’, ‘grow some balls’, or stop behaving ‘like a girl’. While women who aren’t ‘ladylike’ or ‘graceful’ are viewed as ‘mannish’, because ‘man’ denotes strength. This binary view of gender opposes the male figure to the female figure. And these reductionist images are clearly causing as much detriment to males as they are to females.

The world isn’t binary. Individuals come in all shapes and sizes. So possibly, the solution to eradicating bigorexia, as well as anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders, would be to eradicate the concept of body norms.

Whether tall or short, muscly or scrawny, curvy or thin… our bodies are our own. They are ours to love. We are all beautiful and we are all individual. While media giants might not reflect this message yet, we as individuals can start to send the message out that all bodies are beautiful. In the words of TEDx, there’s an idea worth spreading.


Be sure to check out Zoe Burnett’s talk later this year at TEDxBrayfordPool Re:Think on Saturday 14th September. Zoe, having suffered from eating disorders herself, plans to spread the idea of body positivity. Find out more here and be sure to buy your ticket for TEDxBrayfordPool Re:Think here.



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