The Adonis Complex; Men and Body Image

by Arash Mazinani on January 29, 2011

About 3 or 4 years ago I used to subscribe to Mens Health magazine. At the time I was quite heavily into working out, attending the gym about 3 times a week. I also made sure I tried to eat as well as possible cutting out as many bad foods as I could. Now if you’ve never seen a picture of me I’m a typical ectomorph body type; skinny and I find it hard to put on weight, although it has been a tiny bit easier since I hit 26. As any other ectomorph has probably experienced I regularly receive comments about ‘how lucky’ I am because I can eat whatever I want. But the problem is I don’t see it that way or at least I didn’t. In the past and on occasion now I’ve seen it as a burden. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy especially if you’re female as being able to eat what you want and not gain weight is something most women would love. That brings me to the point of this article body image and men, how do they relate? What is the adonis complex?

For years we’ve been aware of the way the media bombards women with impossibly perfect girls in magazines, films and Television. The media’s contribution to creating this ‘perfect’ female image has often been criticised for contributing to the rise of eating disorders in women.

However, women are not on their own. Experts now argue that the media is also having a similar impact on men. While women often suffer from anorexia or bulimia men suffer in a different number of ways;

  • Worrying they’re too small so they work out in order to try and achieve that ‘ideal physique’.
  • Binge eating on junk food then going to the gym after for 4 – 5 hours straight to work it off.
  • Over exerting themselves, training 3 – 4 hours a day. Resulting in injuries.
  • In extreme circumstances fasting, dehydration and steroid abuse.

Brad Pitt's body in Fight Club was voted the most sought after body by men in Mens Health Magazine

Putting all the expert advice to one side for a moment and looking at it through my own eyes, I can relate. I mean looking at the images in Mens Health was enough to drive me to try and aspire to get a 6 pack and big arms and pecs. But it didn’t stop there, the more I think about it well sculpted guys are popping up all over and perpetuating that idea of the masculine image. Off the top of my head I can think of Cristiano Ronaldo advertising Armani underwear and before him there was David Beckham. I also remember David Gandy in a TV advert for D&G men’s fragrances. Then you have films where at any given opportunity the male lead will whip off his top revealing a muscular frame.

Now this is where fuel is added to the fire and both men and women are guilty of this. I’m pretty sure most people have seen the Armani adverts or at least a movie where a guy takes his top off. For any ladies reading I’m pretty sure some of you have passed comment at such a point maybe in ear shot of a guy, cue “He’s so hot, look at his body” or “Phworrr” etc. For the guys I’m sure you’ve heard women passing comment on such advertisements and film/TV scenes. When you hear those sorts of comments how does it make you feel?  Again this is not a one way street as guys pass comment on women in magazines and film/TV all the time, cue “She’s well fit” etc. Again for any ladies reading what do you think when you hear these sorts of comments?

But what this does is create insecurities in each other. We all want to be attractive and these comments help endorse that skewed perception of beauty. While we are quick to point the finger at the media we also have to take some responsibility ourselves as our words give power to the images we see.

As bad as each other

The key is to address these issues as many men would never express any anxieties about their body’s for fear of being labelled effeminate. We also have to learn that being successful and attractive is so much more than just having a muscular physique.

Coming back to myself, after looking into male body issues I have to admit I probably have suffered from an adonis complex at some point in the past and still do from time to time. I would still encourage anyone who wants to build a better image to do some sort of exercise purely for the health benefits. But as with most things in life it’s all about balance, don’t over indulge and don’t be sucked into the media’s perception of attractiveness.

How do you feel about your own body image?

Do you feel a pressure from the media or other people to be a certain size or shape?

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy D. January 29, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I used to buy into the media hype that I too, as a full figured girl of nearly 6 foot could look like Kate Moss. It starts at a younger age, I think, even if the person does not act on their “necesity” to be fit or thin. And it can grow into an obsession. Now I enjoy eating healthy food because I appreciate its freshness and that it is also good for me. I don’t eat healthy because it will make me thin. The same with my need to walk everywhere or take public transportation. This was a slapped together response but I hope it got the point across. I agree that you should do healthy things in order to to make yourself healthy and not a specific weight or body mass.

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Arash Mazinani January 30, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Yeah I completely understand what you’re saying Joy and agree with you. You should aim to be healthy rather than doing something because you’re pressured into it. Thanks for commenting.

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Angga Heinrich January 30, 2011 at 3:38 am

OMG!! I’m so glad that you actually bringing this up!! I think the society is to caught up on an image where everything are so skinny and well build. I think everything should be in proportions, I need to go to the gym but in a case that I love living healthy.
<3
http://reserveradefashion.blogspot.com

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Arash Mazinani January 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for commenting I really appreciate it.

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Terri January 31, 2011 at 1:50 am

Years ago, I used to worry about women in my classes who wrote about anorexia and/or bulemia. Increasingly, I’ve had conversations with male students…about what they ate that day or how they’ve bulked up and how many hours they spent in the gym…THIS is spot on.

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Grit & Glamour January 31, 2011 at 2:20 pm

This is a fantastic post, Arash. Especially in our genre of blogging, there is little attention paid to male body issues…that need to be “big”…at almost any cost. My husband and I have talked at length about this. I push myself pretty hard in the gym to try to fight gravity and maintain a level of strength and musculature that works for me, and I have absolutely had my fair share of self-hatred. I see so many guys in the gym really busting it to try to add size, some who are clearly on ‘roids to get there. That’s so sad. Because steroids are not to be messed with, and I believe the muscle mass they guarantee becomes addictive. Doing a program of steroids a few times is likely no big deal. But the lifers, what are they doing to their insides to look the way the do on the outside?

Good for you for shedding light on this. We are so focused on women and their body issues that we often overlook the pressure that young men, especially, feel to transform themselves into perfectly carved bodies, no matter what it takes. I’m sure there are women who find that very attractive. But for most women, it’s no big deal. And no woman wants to compete with the gym for time with her guy. A balanced approach to fitness is all we ALL need to maintain our bodies and feel good about ourselves.

••V••
http://www.gritandglamour.com
@gritandglamour

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Arash Mazinani February 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for the insightful comment, steroids are definitely not to be messed with not only do you have the psychological side effects but there also other physical side effects.

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Kim January 31, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I guess it’s less “out there” that guys aren’t pleased with the way they look because they talk about it less. But I definitely think that there are a lot of guys who are equally insecure as women. Guess it’s normal, we’re all human & insecurity seems to be something that comes with it. I try not to compare myself to models or whatever, but I’m generally pretty pleased with myself, I just try to think “you have to work & be happy with what you’ve got” since you can’t really do much about it (except work out :) but I’m too lazy for that)
brunetteblogging.com

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Fee January 31, 2011 at 7:46 pm

It really is a suprise at how little the Adonis complex is spoken about…women’s body insecurites are talked about so openly and men are always seen as being ‘ok’ and not affected by the media.

But men over exerting themselves through prolonged exercise over a long period of time can just be as harmful as any eating disorder.
My dad actually went through something like this were he actually became transfixed with getting the ‘ideal’ masculine body in his late 20′s. To the point were he developed huge stretch marks along his biceps and muscle injury from the amount of continous exercise he was doing.

I really do feel all extreme forms of body image should be seen as a disorder (and talked about alot more) – whether it’s over eating, under eating, over excercising or wanting to extremely alter your appeareance through plastic surgery.
As I really think the media isn’t going to change!

Really great article!

Fee

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Arash Mazinani February 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Awww thanks for coming through again and commenting :-).

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Fashnlvr February 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

My husband and I both go to the gym, and we go together. We strive to eat well but sometimes eat fat, sugar-laden, calorie-rich things too. It’s all about balance.
How can one help but admire the physical perfection presented to us on the screen? Brad Pitt in Troy – OMG!! Matthew McConaughey running on the beach – beautiful, all of the men in 300 – WOW! Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft, Demi Moore in GI Jane, Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby – the list goes on. These are not normal people. They are genetically gifted AND they are getting PAID to look like this, thus they have nutritionists, chefs, trainers, dieticians, time and “movie magic” > things we “average” humans just do not have. We don’t have the time or the money or the access to look the way they do. Their JOB is to look GOOD. My job is to work on servers all day; I have to work on looking my best in my “spare” time. I love that Jamie Lee Curtis is representing what a “normal” 50-something year old woman would look like, but again – she is still genetically gifted.
We all have our own unique genetic potential which is what makes each of us so interesting and beautiful as individuals. As long as you are being the best YOU – that is what matters most. And ONLY you can determine what you think your best you is. Embrace that, pat yourself on the back, and admire “the gifted” as a “separate species” :)
http://www.fashnlvr.blogspot.com

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Arash Mazinani February 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Aww thanks for the concise comment!

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Fabienne Jach February 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm

It takes so much strength to develop a healthy level of immunity to the messages we are bombarded with. I appreciate hearing a man’s take on it. In my case, getting older has definitely helped me find the balance of what works, what I can change and want to change, what I can’t change and am happy to accept as what makes me unique, and what makes me feel good. If I place feeling good above everything else, I end up in a place where I’m sleeping enough, getting enough quiet and social time, I’m eating well and running regularly. The end result is that I physically and mentally feel great. The cherry on top is that I look good. Feeling good ultimately results in looking good but unfortunately we reverse the priority too often.

Thank you for bringing your perspective and experience to the table.

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Arash Mazinani February 3, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for commenting, I completely agree when you feel good you generally look good.

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Laura Connell February 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm

What a terrific and honest article! We hear so much about the women’s side of this issue, it is helpful to hear men also suffer from similar insecurities. I did suspect men didn’t voice those insecurities because they would come off as “girlish” and now I see I was right.

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Arash Mazinani February 4, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Thanks for coming through and commenting :-)

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CamilleA February 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Thank you for the insight and education.
I’ve just written a post where I was at a shoot and taking pics of the hot models of both sexes. The post is written with a tongue in cheek slant at the guy’s hot body. Totally objectifying them/him. He was so lean and toned I was mesmorised. Have a look and please feel free to tell me how the blog makes you feel. Leave a comment or email privately either way I’d like to know what you think.
Thanks again for this post.
CamilleA
http://www.karma-styleblog.blogspot.com

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Arash Mazinani February 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for commenting I’ll check it out.

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A February 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm

To be honest, Brad Pitt looks a bit like an action man there. Not sexy.

Aside from that, I think men have it particularly hard, because if you work out too much, people start accusing you of being gay. And if you are gay, you’ll probably take offence at the way people are still ACCUSING as though it’s a bad thing.

I think this is a great article, you don’t tend to hear many guys speaking out against this sort of thing. Maybe if a few more would, we could start trying to put an end to this idea of ‘the perfect body’ which doesn’t really exist.

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Arash Mazinani February 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Thanks for the reply, yeah it’s interesting that you said Brad Pitt’s body wasn’t sexy. As I mentioned in the post it is one of the most desired body types by guys.

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Casee Marie February 7, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Hi there! I came across your post via Beautifully Invisible’s new Link Love with a Twist feature and I’m so very glad I did. You’ve given such an insightful and honest look at a topic that seems to be swept under the rug or just overlooked entirely. Body image issues certainly aren’t one-sided and the media easily aims its influence at both men and women. I’ve always felt the biggest flaw in advertisements, etc, is the way they present their audience with a singular ideal and expect us to want to achieve that – nobody seems to take into consideration the many reasons we are such different shapes in sizes. Bone density and issues like diabetes, for example, have an effect on our size and we can’t alter that. If we do want to change it should be about building on the foundation we’re given, not transforming into some unattainable goal.

Wonderful job with this, truly! It was such an interesting and refreshing read.

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Arash Mazinani February 8, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Thanks for coming through and commenting Casee Marie. I’m flattered that you enjoyed reading the post. I agree with you completely the images we are promoting through advertising are pretty much the same image over and over. I think advertisers believe that we all want to attain those images so will buy into them. They’re afraid of actually trying something new in case their products don’t sell.

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Haley February 8, 2011 at 11:07 am

This was very enlightening for me, thanx for sharing! I have a lot of concern for female body image, but maybe it’s more of an issue for men than I know.

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Arash Mazinani February 8, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Thanks for coming through and commenting Haley :)

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Brianne February 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Hello, just found you through IFB… You make a really great point about how we (as an audience) have a role here, as far as our reactions to those advertisements. After all, ad agencies base their ads on research, right? Change will start with people talking about it, like you have done :) I’ve struggled with body image and working out as well (was one of those female gym junkies) but after an injury, I’ve reconsidered how much that perfect, willow thin stereotype is worth to me.

Thanks so much for sharing!

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Arash Mazinani February 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I’ve just checked out your blog and you look fantastic anyway. I really appreciate you coming through and commenting.

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Tej February 19, 2011 at 9:04 am

I remember a while ago we were out in a club and there seemed to suddenly be a disproportionate amount of really bulked up guys in there. We joked that a vat of steroids must have accidentally been spilled into the water supply :-)

Seriously though, as a guy, I have been and still am affected by media and advertising presentation of body image. But on top of that, as I work in the field of production of artwork for media and advertising I know full well the amount of image manipulation that occurs to create unattainable bodies.

So aside from competing with the professional models body, an athletes body, the body of a celebrity that employs a full time personal trainer, or the fact that it is an exceptionally tall 16 year old model used to sell adult clothes, we have image retouching. This is something that I am fairly skilled at, but I have worked with some people who are phenomenally adept at this skill.

Even body images that appear in the windows of ordinary department stores have been retouched by very skilled artists. I have seen one of the best of these artists at work and even someone who works in the industry can not spot the alterations that he makes.

For women this has gone on for as long as people have been photographed and has gradually affected mens perception of women and now of themselves. Fundamentally I think its because we connect our ‘identity’ to our bodies when, of course, our bodies are transient. But we have an inbuilt desire to impress with our surface instead of our depth.

…went off on a bit of a tangent there, but you get the idea ;-)

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Arash Mazinani February 23, 2011 at 8:43 am

Awesome comment cheers for coming from Tej. It’s great to get the perspective someone who is actually in the industry and find out the extreme detail that goes into editing a picture to make sure it’s ready to be displayed to the public.

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Patrick June 5, 2011 at 12:27 am

I have more recently become concerned with general body health as working a sedetary job has helped to push this to the forefront of my mind. Trying to do some exercise around the job and eating well is at least helping a little as I have lost 2 stones in weight from what I used to weigh earlier this year.

Getting the regular jogs in where I can does help though, even though I feel that I need to learn to drive at some point and still want to work towards that better job. I do keep on applying but it is a tough market now, even for good candidates.

Still, trying to do something rather than nothing is better, right? That, and a bit of will power do go a fair way.

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Francis G. June 9, 2011 at 3:16 am

I bought similar workout magazines as well. I went to gym to workout to try to attain adonis body type and unfortunately, nothing’s working out for me. Just imagine people tell you that your are too skinny and i admit that standing at 5 foot 7 and with 110 pounds is way underweight. I still experience Adonis Complex every now and then whenever images or pictures of Adonis men appear in front of me.

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MikeK April 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Arash-

Thank you so much! I am 51 and have been dealing with this for some time. It took a back injury from pushing too hard in the gym to get me to start thinking that I was pushing too hard and wondering what the reasons were. I think mine also may have to do with coming from a dysfunctional family and feeling a need to try to control something, specifically my body. When one does not receive encouragement or complements in their formative years they tend to seek it out in other ways; i.e. from addictive exercise. I also think the media portrayal of physical perfection just tends to heighten this insecurity for me.

Today, it’s about trying to find moderation in my life, including exercise. Someone once wrote that
When we have one area of our life out of balance, be that spiritual, physical, emotional, etc. it makes our lives chaotic, unmanageable and enjoyable.

Thank you again. We need to hear more messages like yours.

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Arash Mazinani April 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm

That’s very true, balance is the ultimate key, over doing any area can lead to unhappiness.

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Chris July 19, 2012 at 4:17 am

The ‘adonis body style’ is a bit of a craze sweeping the infosphere at the moment, so there must be a commercial motive behind it all. I read that women respond to the adonis torso, but I have no reliable statistics to back that notion up with. I do not know a single woman who ever agreed with it (do you?). When you see a statement, such as: “80% of women say they prefer the Adonis look” find out how that statistic was gleaned. It could be another furphy. Women and men do not see eye to eye on a lot of things. Women fuss over their clothing a lot, though dress is secondary as a reason of men’s attraction to them. A poor second, too. A girl who is called ‘hot’ does not need to wear anything. On the other hand, women will more often comment ‘he looks sexier when he’s fully dressed.’ When judging men, men and women have difficulty in agreeing on what type of men are attractive. On the other hand, there is a lot of consensus between genders on what type of woman deserves to be called attractive. While women may say that the Adonis look is one they like, it does not mean it matters to them, or even something that really attracts them. In men, the female body remains an important aspect of attraction, and far from being superficial or irrational physical attraction almost certainly has evolutionary significance. It must be a bit different for women.

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Dan August 8, 2012 at 6:18 am

Very nice article; it’s something we should be talking about. One thing that I personally feel is overlooked is the near complete lack of body hair. While having little body hair is natural for some men, for many men (especially those of European ancestry) it is not, and I think some parallels can be drawn between female body issues such as bikini waxing/going porn-star bald.

Similarly, these Adonises in the media typically have perfect tans- nothing wrong with a tan, and certainly men of varying ancestry will have varying skintones, but speaking specifically about caucasian men, I’d say there’s something to be said about under-representation of paler complexions. The unfortunate result is either Jersey Shore spray on tans or dangerous levels of tanning salons. Interestingly, for Hispanic/Latino men it’s typically the “whiter” ones that are held up as Adonises, and for East Asians whitening creams are growing in popularity for men. On both sides (going lighter or darker) there’s product being sold to make many men look unnatural.

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James August 8, 2012 at 8:38 am

So advertising makes you too thin if you want to be a skinny super model, too fat if you can’t resist a juicy-looking burger or too muscular if you have some sort of complex? What’s the solution, ban advertising?

I understand the points you’re trying to make here but I can’t help but feel it’s ultimately down to the individual. No one is making you fat, thin, or bulky. It’s completely up to you. Some people are more susceptible to advertising and peer pressure than others, that’s where the debate ought to begin.

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Daniel July 17, 2013 at 11:31 pm

As for me, Brad Pitt’s shape was far from ideal. I really like how superman looked in the recent movie.
Daniel recently posted..5 Best Weight GainersMy Profile

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Jason October 7, 2013 at 7:13 am

I agree with all of the above posters – the information out there is pretty crazy right now. I will say that I’d lean more towards Pitt’s physique than others because it’s more attainable for the common person. It just requires a severe bodyfat reduction for most of us where some of the more bulked up stars would require a whole lot of eating and training to add the muscle first.

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