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Preventing Weight Problems with Kids

Let's Face It:Teens and Acne

A Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Dysmorphic Disorder

The Adonis Complex: How to Identify,Treat, and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys



by Tania K. Cowling


A growing number of teenage boys are so obsessed with their bodies; worrying that their muscles aren┴t big enough or their bodies aren┴t lean enough. This affects their health, schoolwork, and personal relationships. Boys may be secretly suffering from body-image problems. It┴s a trend that could get worse because young preteens and teens today are constantly bombarded with images of muscular, half-naked men on the covers of magazines and in advertising inside.

In a recently published book, The Adonis Complex by Harrison Pope, M.D., Katherine Phillips, M.D. and Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, three leading psychologists say more and more male teens are tying their self-worth to their body image. ╦They are obsessed with their bodies.Ë Girls aren┴t the only ones who suffer from eating disorders and an obsession with their appearance. Pope, a Harvard Medical School psychology professor, has identified males who fit into this pattern that can begin in adolescence or younger as the ╦Adonis Complex.Ë He explains that this condition is generated by unrealistic appearance ideals and pressure to achieve physical perfection. It is stressed that this complex can lead to compulsive and dangerous dieting, exercise, weight-lifting, steroid and supplement abuse, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder, an obsession with minor body flaws that can result in poor self-esteem and depression. Unfortunately boys receive the message that muscles equal masculinity. Pope┴s study with teen boys confirms that a ╦majority of boys chose a body ideal that most men could attain only with steroids.Ë This impractical goal puts young boys at risk for negative body image, unhealthy food and exercise habits, depression and low self-esteem.



Some muscle building is quite normal. Not all boys will develop the extreme Adonis Complex. Here are some signs and symptoms to look for:


¨       Excessive exercise that isn┴t required for athletic training at school and infringes on other important activities

¨       Engaging in sports for the sole purpose of improving appearance instead of the love of the game

¨       A preoccupation with a model appearance like the muscular men in the media

¨       The use of large amounts of dietary supplements (such as creatine or protein powder) or the use of steroids (such as ephedrine or androstenedione).

¨       Rapid fluctuations in weight

¨       Dangerous techniques to lose weight, such as fasting, extreme diets, laxatives, and diuretics

¨       Excessive amounts of time and/or money spent on grooming activities and products

¨       A depressed feeling of never looking good enough

¨       A need to be constantly reassured that he ╦looks good.Ë

¨       Allowing appearance concerns to limit social activities or negatively affecting school or job performance

¨       Avoidance of having all or part of his body seen by others, for example in the locker room at school



  • Make an effort to maintain positive, healthy attitudes and behaviors. Children learn from the things you say and do. Exercise moderately and eat for health reasons. Accept your own body with its strengths and flaws
  • .Educate yourself and seek more information about the Adonis Complex so that you understand what your son may be struggling with. Don┴t ignore the warning signságet help early. Consult with pediatricians, and school counselors for additional guidance.
  • Never criticize or tease a boy about his appearance. This could trigger the Adonis Complex or make it worse. Drawing attention to appearance only reinforces this unhealthy obsession.
  • Educate your child about the dangers of steroids, weight-loss drugs, and other risky ways of changing appearance. Explain how magazine photos are usually airbrushed and computer-altered to achieve the perfect look.
  • Build self-esteem by building your son┴s self-worth on inner qualities rather than appearance. Reinforce his talents, skills, and personal characteristics that make him a valuable person.




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