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Male Body Dysmorphia: Bigorexia and Balding

Most of us have bad hair days. Or hair thinning days. Or feeling fat days. Or feeling small days.

Much of the media attention around body image issues has been focused on women, but research shows men might suffer just as much body dissatisfaction as women; they’re just quieter about such feelings. In fact, studies led by a researcher from Chapman University, Orange, California, found 90% of US undergraduate men experience some degree of body dissatisfaction.

For some men, these feelings can spiral into uncontrollable and obsessive thoughts that cause severe emotional distress, despite the perceived flaw being barely noticeable to others. This is known as male body dysmorphia.

Two ways male body image issues can manifest themselves are bigorexia— an exaggerated or delusional believe that a man’s body is not muscular enough — and an obsession with balding and hair loss. To know how best to manage these emotions, you first need to understand the thought-patterns around these issues, and then attempt to change your relationship with them.

What is male body dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is the persistent and intrusive preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in your appearance. While others may not see anything wrong, someone with BDD magnifies the flaw in his own mind, causing severe emotional distress and difficulties in daily functioning.

BDD affects between five and ten million Americans, according to the International OCD Foundation. That makes it about as common as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And BDD shares many features with OCD, like the experience of uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America identify signs and symptoms of BDD as including compulsive checking in mirrors (or avoiding mirrors), camouflaging with body position, clothing or makeup; skin picking; excessive grooming; and excessive exercise.

BDD often coexists with depression and social anxiety and can have grave impact on a sufferer’s life. A 2007 study led by a doctor from Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, found 45 to 70 percent of the patients with BDD have reported suffering from suicidal ideation and 22 to 24 percent of patients with BDD have attempted suicide.

The body part a sufferer obsesses over can be linked to the extent it is regarded as a symbol of masculinity. In The Adonis Project: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession, the authors state: “Body dysmorphic disorder is often confused with vanity; this is not the case as most people don't want to look great, they just want to look acceptable.”


Recorded cases of bigorexia - sometimes called ‘reverse anorexia’ - are on the rise. The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation have claimed one in ten men in UK gyms are sufferers.

A Journal of Athletic Training report states: "Societal pressures often dictate the way an ‘ideal' body should look. For several decades, much of the focus on body image disorders has centered on women. In American society, the feminine ideal is to appear thin. Males, however, are encouraged to be muscular and ‘ripped.’”

People with bigorexia can experience anxiety when unable to train, ruminate over their muscularity, and may have a lowered quality of life compared with non-sufferers.


Hair concerns, including concerns about going bald, are the second most common issue for body dysmorphia sufferers.

The incidence of BDD is about ten times higher in patients with complaints of hair loss than it is in general dermatology patients and cases are higher in males. One study of 100 hair transplant patients published in the Acta Medical International journal found 28% of hair loss patients suffer from BDD, which is higher than the 20.7% of those seeking nose surgery, with the preoccupation with hair loss in the minds of the patients much higher than perceived by their doctors.

So if these male body image issues can be all in our heads, then what can we do about it?

Meditation for body image

On a daily basis, how you perceive your own image can ebb and flow depending on our experiences, moods, and emotions. Trying to cultivate a healthy male body image is essentially trying to reach the point where we are accepting of how our body looks and able to separate your appearance from your self-worth.

Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe says: "From personal experience, I can assure you that it’s possible to have a bad hair day even without hair. Which makes me think that perhaps there is more than a little of a mental element to the bad hair day phenomenon. That’s good news because it means it’s something mindfulness can really help with.”

Meditating for just ten minutes a day as part of your routine is a great step on the way to a healthier and happier life...by helping you manage any habitual or obsessive thoughts. When meditating, you learn to see your thoughts more clearly. Thoughts are soon exposed for what they are -- fleeting and without weight...until you give them weight and get caught up in them.

The more you meditate, the more space you learn to cultivate between yourself and the thoughts you experience; in turn, the less you engage with negative male body image thoughts, the less power such thoughts will have over you.

These are three of the specific meditations that can help promote a healthier body image.

  • Meditation for compassion (loving-kindness): Loving-kindness is a type of visualization meditation to direct well-wishes and goodwill first to ourselves and then, as a ripple effect, to others. Practicing self-compassion helps us learn to love ourselves and our bodies. A 2015 study found that just three weeks of using the Headspace app increased compassion by 21 percent.
  • Guided meditation for self-esteem: Self-esteem is how we value ourselves. And meditation for self-esteem helps to change our relationship with our negative thoughts, become more comfortable with who we are and increase our confidence, therefore leading to a healthier male body image. For subscribers, the Headspace app offers a 30-day self-esteem meditation course that focuses on changing your perspective around negative chatter.
  • Meditation for happiness: Happiness is inside us, it’s just sometimes buried beneath layers of other thoughts and emotions. Meditation for happiness helps us to reconnect with that happiness, feel more content, improve our relationship with ourselves and therefore our male body image. The Headspace app offers a Happiness course for subscribers which helps us to tap into a happier state of mind.

Loving kindness meditation



Try this 10-minute meditation on self-esteem



Happiness meditation



Try Headspace for free and join more than 40 million people who have downloaded to app. There are hundreds of guided meditations to help make our minds and bodies happier and healthier, improve our relationships with ourselves and our body image.