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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 10:58 GMT
Body image problems hit men too
Media images can impact on men's body image
Media images can impact on men's body image
It is often assumed to be women who suffer from extreme dissatisfaction with their body image.

But experts say men are just as likely to be unhappy with the way they look.

In this week's British Medical Journal, experts estimate triple the number of men suffer from body dysmorphic disorder - a severe form of body image dissatisfaction - now, compared to 25 years ago.

But they say the condition is under-recognised and under-diagnosed.

Up to 1% of the population are estimated to suffer from the disorder in the UK - though more could more who don't admit their concerns.


Men and boys are often reluctant to reveal their symptoms because of embarrassment and shame

Katharine Philips and David Castle, Researchers
Although concerns about appearance can seem trivial, many patients need to be admitted to hospital, become housebound - or even attempt suicide.

Sufferers can become socially isolated and experience problems at work.

Men are most likely to be preoccupied with their skin, because of acne or scarring, hair loss, the size or shape of their nose, or their genitals.

The trend for men to look muscular has also caused body image problems for men.

Signs of an intense preoccupation with their appearance are examining, fixing or hiding the perceived defect.

They range from checking how they look in the mirror, comparing themselves with others and excessive grooming, to seeking reassurance about how they look.

'Embarrasment'

The authors of the paper, Katherine Phillips, director of the Body Dysmorphic Program at Brown University School of Medicine in Rhode Island, and David Castle, professorial fellow at the Mental Health Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, say awareness of the disorder must be increased.

They write: "Men and boys are often reluctant to reveal their symptoms because of embarrassment and shame, and they typically do not recognise that their beliefs about their appearance are inaccurate and due to a psychiatric disorder."

The rise in 'muscle dysmorphia' is of concern, say the authors, because it can lead to the abuse of anabolic steroids by men trying to build-up their muscles.

Men with the condition believe they are too small and "puny", but often they are unusually muscular and large, regularly working out in the gym.

More doctors need to be aware of the condition they say, because patients often do not talk about their body image concerns.

They recommend treatment with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants combined with cognitive behavioural therapy - which helps people change the way they react to certain stimuli.

But they say many patients are wrongly treated for their dermatological, surgical or non-psychiatric treatment, which is often ineffective.

They write: "The challenge is to enhance both physicians' and the public's awareness of body dysmorphic disorder so that effective treatments can be offered and unnecessary suffering and morbidity avoided."

Growing awareness

Dr David Veale, a specialist who treats patients with body dysmorphic disorder at the Priory Hospital, north London, told BBC News Online: "Men are likely to be preoccupied with their skin, their nose or their genital size.

"People are aware of the condition, but it is a low level of awareness."

Sue Minall, a spokeswoman for Obsessive Action, a support organisation for people with body dysmorphic disorder said there was growing awareness of the condition.

But Ms Minall, who had body dysmorphic disorder for 26 years before it was recognised, said: "Sufferers find it very hard to talk about their condition.

"People go to their GPs but they don't talk about their appearance concerns because its embarrassing."

She said: "Men suffer equally from this - in fact more men than women come to the support group I'm involved with."

See also:

29 Oct 01 | Health
How cancer affects body image
09 May 01 | Health
Poor body image plagues women
08 Aug 01 | Health
Most women 'want plastic surgery'
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