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The term “Adonis Complex” is not a medical term.  It is being used to describe a variety of body image concerns which have been plaguing boys and men, especially throughout the last two decades.  It does not describe any one body image problem of males, rather all the issues collectively ranging from minor frustrations to serious obsessions.  

In 2007, American men spent approximately: $4 billion on exercise equipment and health club memberships, $3 billion on grooming aids and fragrances, $800 million on hair transplants, and $500 million on male cosmetic surgery procedures such as pectoral implants, chin surgery, liposuction and rhinoplasty (nose jobs)

It does appear that men are growing increasingly concerned with their appearance and are willing to spend millions of dollars to enhance their physical image.  And while most are not undergoing drastic cosmetic procedures, the rate of hazardous eating behaviors is increasing in young males more than ever before.  


Facts and Statistics

For example, nearly 1/3 of teen boys try to control their weight in unhealthy ways, like skipping meals, taking laxatives, or smoking.  Further, 25% of anorexic and bulimic adults and 40% of binge eaters are men.  Although most people associate eating disorders and body image issues with girls, the obsession with having a better body is far from a girl’s only issue.

It appears that the media plays a significant role in this by presenting the public with unrealistic images of the ideal male body.  Consider the following:  GI Joe is to young boys what Barbie is to young girls and over the past 20 years, the G.I. Joe toys have grown more muscular.  The GI Joe Extreme action figure, if extrapolated to a height of 5’10”, would have larger biceps than any bodybuilder in history.  

Increasingly, young boys have become obsessed with controlling their eating, taking supplements, or working out excessively in order to get the desired bodies they see in magazine ads and on TV.  Even with the negative examples of professional athletes and steroid scandals, boys are still tempted to bulk up for sports or to impress girls.


Help Your Boys

Some things parents can do to reduce the chances of their boys developing body image issues include:

  • Emphasize health over looks.
  • Keep kids active with exercise and team sports.
  • Observe your own behavior and set a good example-are you overly critical of your own body?  Do you exercise and eat well?
  • Help your children form realistic expectations by pointing out that the sports figures and celebrities they admire have teams of professional people helping them work out and feeding them special meals.
  • If your son is on a sports team, talk to him about training/practice.  Find out what kind of messages he’s getting from his coach and from other team members.
  • Watch for signs of sudden weight loss, dramatically increased workouts, large muscle growth, and radically altered eating patterns.

We need to support our boys and help them to not only feel comfortable about their bodies but also to feel comfortable enough to speak up about their individual challenges with body image.  Keeping the lines of communication open is the best way to help young males develop positive self-esteem.


Lisa Landman is a fitness and health guru. Learn more about her professional work or check out her Twitter!