Self-obsession comes at a heavy cost. A recent study published in Open Psychology Journal notes that excessive selfies on social media is associated with an increase in narcissism. The study authors believe it’s not a chicken-or-egg scenario: constant self-referential posts increase one’s love of self. Then again, as we all know, such self-love is often a mask for self-loathing, often under guise of “confidence.”
Such self-loathing is often rooted in physical form. The neurosis might be mental, but focusing on the perceived shortcomings of one’s body is an all-too-common road to depression and anxiety. And there are few arenas for such displays as the gym. Fitness selfies are one of the most common forms of self-promotion—and self-anxiety, it turns out.
A new study from researchers at Norwegian University for Science and Technology and Harvard, published in International Journal of Eating Disorders, discovered that boys and young men obsessed with muscle mass are at higher risk for depression, weekend binge drinking, steroid usage, and, as the journal name suggests, eating disorders.
Unlike girls and young women, whose eating disorders often manifest in anorexia or bulimia, men are more specific with the supplements and types of food they consume: the keto diet, supplements, mounds of protein powder, an excessive percentage of fats.
Men simply mask it differently. The researchers tracked 2,460 males, aged 18-32, by using data from the large-scale Growing Up Today Study (GUTS) that was initiated in 1996 and collects information from over 26,000 participants every year. Interestingly, they noticed obsession with muscle mass was more prevalent in gay and bisexual men than their heterosexual counterparts.
Depression seems to be the most common effect of body dissatisfaction. The incessant drive to building muscle mass is the response; as with many obsessions, one’s muscles can never be large enough. That is why just over one-fifth of those studied used dietary supplements, leading to potential use of illegal steroids—and, of course, side effects of anabolic steroid usage, including extreme irritability, jealousy, impaired judgment, baldness, and sexual problems, can also lead to depression, creating a vicious cycle.
Parents’ alarm bells should go off if they have a youngster who’s at the gym everyday, who just wants to eat chicken and broccoli and who consumes protein shakes or supplements all the time. If their whole world is about their workouts, parents should take the time to talk with them – for example, by asking questions about what they’re actually training for.
As long as we constantly stare at ourselves in hopeful and frightened determination, into mirrors and our phones, it’s not going to get better. Narcissus only had a murky lake to judge his reflection on. Today we can’t escape the selfie syndrome. What’s left of our self-esteem is being shattered in the process.
Check out my related post: Why should you exercise?