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Is Bigger Better? The Rise of the Adonis Complex


The Scientific Student, Adonis, Adonis complex

Today’s society places a shamelessly high emphasis on physical appearance; female standards, specifically, have been widely criticized in the media for their unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies.  One example that comes to mind is how Victoria’s Secret portrays the ideal woman through its choice of models who have big busts with thin waists and legs.  Social media has supported ads and campaigns that combat the idea that one must meet these physical standards in order to be accepted by society. However, while progress is being made for women and body image, it is naive to assume that this is only a women’s problem.

Body image issues and dissatisfaction have primarily been associated with women. Studies have shown, however, that men are just as dissatisfied with their bodies as women are; in fact, experts have found that 95 percent of college-aged men expressed some sort of discontent with their physical appearance. Many men feel the need to increase their muscle mass due to the societal expectation that “real men” exude power and masculinity through their physical appearance. The term Adonis complex, also known as a type of muscle dysmorphia, is used to describe the body disorder men face when trying to achieve this ideal body type, which frequently results in the use of steroids.

Testosterone is the main steroid that is produced naturally within the human body and helps to increase muscle mass. The physiological effects of endogenous testosterone are secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, body hair, and a deeper voice.

Individuals may choose to take synthetic hormones in order to get an extra boost during their workout, which allows the body to go beyond its natural limits to increase muscle mass. This occurs because steroid hormones stimulate the receptors that are located in the muscle cells that ultimately produce proteins.

Synthetic hormones are not just for increasing muscle; many people claim that they help improve recovery times after practices and workout sessions. Anabolic steroids inhibit the breakdown of proteins, so they have anti-catabolic effect. The 1998 edition of the Encycloedia of Sports Medicine and Science hypothesized that anabolic steroids inhibit the effects of certain hormones involved in muscle tissue breakdown, an example of which is cortisol. While this hypothesis has not been fully proven, this would mean that individuals taking anabolic steroids could train harder and more often.

While there are benefits of using synthetic hormones, there are also many risky side effects. In males, the consequences from taking these steroids include baldness, larger breasts, kidney and liver problems, and high blood pressure. Women may develop infrequent periods, increased body hair, and a deeper voice. Along with a change in physical appearance, there are also behavioral changes, such as increased aggression, that are seen in both males and females.

With all of these detrimental effects to the body, why are there still people sacrificing their physical health to alter their appearance? Personal experiences, media, and social pressures to conform have created an expectation for both men and women to become fixated on attaining a certain body type. Some of these body ideals are so unrealistic that individuals must turn to enhancing drugs such as synthetic steroids in order to obtain this body goal. To alleviate these issues, the representation of men and women, whether in movies, magazines, or television shows, should be changed to reflect a more healthy body type. Otherwise, it is probable that young kids will grow up seeing and consequently desiring to achieve bodies that are not realistically attainable through safe means. As a society, we should push towards popular culture focusing less on our appearances, and more on the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices. Then, maybe we will be able to stop the cycle of body image problems.

Editor: Shreya Singireddy