T Nation

Negative Self Image: Isn't It Scary?


I’ve made this thread, which will be more of an “article” that you’ll have access to share your thoughts, experiences and constructive criticisms on which is what these forums are about. My “article” today is motivated by forum threads, social media posts and anecdotal accounts I’ve listened to which all have one thing in common: negative self image.

I’m currently in my third year of undergraduate study, going through the process of conducting my dissertation on sports and fitness behaviours as an influencer of body image satisfaction and eating attitudes. I’ve commented on a few of these threads just a few minutes ago, both males around my age who show crazy delusions of lack of self worth and poor body image satisfaction. I’d like to give you a small amount psychology on the matter on the issue before I give you my own ten penneth worth.

Research like de Bruin (2007) has shown that Body Image Satisfaction and Eating Attitudes can become highly disorded in higher-tier athletes; especially aesthetic based sports e.g. dance or gymnastics (Garner & Garfinkel, 1980). On top of this, Abbot and Barber (2011) found that female adolescent athletes valued aspects of a functional body more than generally active counterparts and were more satisfied with how functional they were than both generally physically active and sedentary counterparts.

A study by Hausenblas and Fallon (2001) found BMI highly predicted low body image satisfaction whereas in males, exercise behaviours was the strongest predictor of low body satisfaction. This gender difference could be explained by Muscle Dysmorphia, or “Bigorexia”. Mosley (2009) states that muscle dysmorphia “entails compulsions to spend hours in the gym, squandering excessive amounts of money on ineffectual sports supplements, abnormal eating patterns or even substance abuse.”

Texeira et al. (2006) programmed overweight-obese women exercise and diet regimes, which significantly effected body image satisfaction and other psychosocial factors. This study aims to expand on these studies, investigating whether sports and fitness behaviours can be efficacious to body image satisfaction and eating attitudes in a sub-clinical population of mentally healthy male and female adults, free from prior diagnosis of underlying health conditions.

Reflect on these studies for a moment, all of which are solid pieces of research with large samples, and all show a massive increase with dissatisfaction with the self in those who’re undertaking fitness behaviours. That’s scary. Body Image Disturbance is a hugely underestimated and misunderstood concept. As society develops these symptoms become more complex and are prevalent in so many people, even in those who have had great success in business, relationships, life, training and sports.

As an athlete, “gym rat” or “cardio bunny”, you should be dedicated part of your life to training and your sport because training and competing boosts your mental wellbeing. Not everyone will be Steven Gerrard, Connor McGregor, Ray Williams, Ronnie Coleman, Brian Shaw or Patrick Kane. These athletes are at the top of their game, top of the genetic lottery and top of working ethic, but none of them have competed without doing their sport. To compare yourself to such people is ridiculous to say the least, as you are not them and are most likely more talented in another part of life than they are, because that is what is to be a human being. Each of us has different mixes of the same traits that make us truly unique.

Train, play, run, fight or compete to improve on yourself spiritually, mentally and physically, not to find issues with yourself which become obsessive and counterproductive. Acknowledge the privilege of being able to have the choice of how you eat, being able to comfortably rest, have access to multimillion dollar industry all based around fitness and sport and enjoy the process of becoming better, not reflecting on what you’re not doing or not what you are now. Not everyone will be at the top, but you can make sure you give yourself the best chance at being the best you.

There’s my “article”, I hope it gets you as readers thinking about what you can do, not what you’re not doing. Let me know what you think.


Good post.

Do you hang out with bodybuilders? You do know this pastime attracts legions of fractured people, right?


I tried getting into bodybuilding myself and didn’t enjoy the amount it took away from other aspects of my life. There’s a difference between striving for improvement and chasing unrealistic and even inexistent goals. That’s what my post is about


Are you implying with thid statement that bodybuilding inherently involves chasing unrealistic goals? You can see my icon here that I competed, as have several others here. None of us were silly enough to think we could look like Lee Haney!

I concluded your post was about unhealthy body image or being unable to meet unrealistic goals. Now in this second post you refer to bodybuilding taking up resources from other areas of life. That actually is inherent in bodybuilding or any other competition or any other lofty endeavor, such as starting a business, working loads of hours as a doctor or lawyer and so on.

All huge undertakings require obsession to a degree. When I was prepping for my show, and for the degree of condition I acquired, other areas of life were not tended to in the way that I usually tend to them.

What’s your overriding point? I understand the view on unhealthy body image, but at the same time, I don’t think one should expect all others to play things in the middle of the pack. Even coming in the best condition one can as an individual takes sacrifice and a high standard upon oneself, despite the fact that this person will not look like Jay Cutler.


I just like being strong because I enjoy knowing I can kick most peoples asses. I also like intimidating people in general. But none of this is surprising given I grew up in an abusive and chaotic home.

If you have a bigger goal of contributing to the forum talk to some of the directors and pitch your ideas. Maybe you can make some money.


It’s hard to tell how many fights I’ve NOT gotten into because my massive biceps intimidated the guy who was thinking about instigating.


Really? Why? Serious question. Not being a wiseass.


I’m sure men just cower in your very presence.


I will say, as a guy who prided himself for a very long time as being the “strong guy”, I was humbled pretty quickly when I actually started training combatives. Strength is certainly a nice asset, but I find that being big and strong is much more effective as an intimidation factor than it actually is in a fight.

That being said, I also like “knowing I can kick most peoples asses.” Now for me, being military, my skill in combatives has a somewhat practical application, and the fitness aspect in undoubtedly necessary. I lift weights because I like setting PR’s, being strong when doing physical activities, and yes, to look like i’m strong.

Also, intimidation has far less to do with looks and far more to do with demeanor. I serve with some scary MOFO’s (note, I am certainly not one, just making that clear), and they are not all “jacked” or even muscular, but they all possess a way of carrying themselves that says in no uncertain terms “do not screw with me”. I also think this is different than guys who try to exclude pseudo-toughness. We have guys with real capabilities who have done some pretty scary shit, but that doesnt mean they are loud, rude, or calloused men. Many always seem to have a smile, speak soft, and crack jokes whenever kids are on base. I feel like guys who really are “tough” “intimidating” “alpha” (idk if anyone still uses that term, always thought it was silly), dont try to show it off, they are just comfortable in who they are, which is the definition of confidence, ironically perhaps the most intimidating thing of all to someone who lacks it. (also, the last sentence is not to imply you dont, just me ranting in general and in no way directed at you)


It is pretty primal. I couldnt tell you why exactly. There is something energizing and addicting about walking into a room and feeling like youre at the top of the food chain, be it with strength, intelligence, charisma, or some conbination. You can just “feel” it. I love the authority, and the feelings of influence and respect. Really, my dream job is to be either a dictator or a vigilanti.

Portland's Inequality Tax

Like this guy?


Bodybuilding is an aesthetic based sport. It requires symmetry, a balanced muscular physique. That’s not to say that it should encourage mental ill-health. There’s a difference between identifying a weakness and improving it and identifying a weakness (whether existent or not) and having your response become compulsive


I still… don’t get your overriding message. Or perhaps it’s because the mentally stable people here already understand that bodybuilding shouldn’t wreck us in any way.


I think the feeling of intimidation is a negative feeling. It’s certainly not pleasant to feel intimidated or threatened. It simply makes me wonder why someone would want to instill negative emotions in others or frighten them.

Perhaps I can’t relate to many of the statement here because I don’t look for fights or that I am not scared of people solely because they have big muscles.

Again, maybe I just can’t relate. I just don’t get star struck or afraid of people so easily. Do you really feel these reactions in others? I think intelligence might impress someone or charisma can be useful in persuading, leading, and/or entertaining people, but I cant picture being intimidated by someone’s intelligence or charisma, even by people who are smarter than me.

Maybe what’s worth noting is that although I do not look for fights, I am always aware of my surroundings and in social settings (say, a bar for example, or even some gyms I’ve attended) and especially the town in which I work while I am on a break and walking around and who is there or next to me. I don’t monitor people like a full-blown weirdo, but I know what’s up.

I can’t say I am a fearless person and I am not a trained or experienced fighter, but my instincts sometimes trigger me to react unfriendly and snappy at times when advised not to and to be “ready”. Usually this occurs when asked for money or “help” frequently by seemingly able-bodied men in the town in which I work.


So as I get it, the thesis is: bodybuilders tend to care about the appearance of their bodies, perhaps excessively.

Well, duh.

Neurosis and fear are driving forces among a lot of achievement. Probably most.

I was poor and often hungry growing up. We frequently knew people who were randomly killed because they were Jewish. My extended family was basically all wiped from the face of the Earth by Nazis.

My first wife was murdered, again because she was Jewish.

As a result, I am an able fighter. We have a fair number of weapons at hand, at any given time.

I have several legal passports. I have land and investments in many diverse countries and lots of money saved up in different ways.

By all accounts, I am an extremely successful businessman and lawyer, perhaps excessively so.

I am also ready to bolt with me and mine. Bag packed.

My motive for working so hard and saving (and living far below my means) was fear and concern for the future of my daughters.

I bet most everyone who is successful is driven my similar, allegedly dark, motives.

The idea that be driven by such things is bad is a rich, mayonnaise-cheese-and-ham-on-white, conceit, created by generations of sniffing at the the Jews, Italians, and Irish who work hard and scramble to get ahead while mayo-boy sits at the country club in his wrinkled linen shorts and plaid shirt and contemplates the fact his children will be downwardly mobile.

Fear and worry are great motivators.


I’ve seen my share of intimidating people come through the doors of the bar I occasionally bounce at.

None of them need to point out how intimidating they are.


Yes I do feel it, Ill give you an example:

Recently I was charged an exorbent fee for health insurance and expected to pay this premium in full in one lump-sum. I thought it was complete BS that anyone, especially an employee of a research institution whos work is making their employer a lot of money, was charged such an outrageous fee. I decided I did not want to pay this fee, so I talked to the accounts office. I asked to speak with someone high I up. At first they were reluctant, but I persisted and they eventually complied. When I say down with them I explained the situation as follows (this is paraphrased):

I think it is unfair that you are expecting your employees to pay XX for YY health insurance, especially employees who are bringing in this institution millions of dollars. The fact of the matter is employees like me are an investment: you invest in us and we make the institution money through progress in our research and grants. When I am asked to pay over ZZ percent of my income for “insurance”, I feel that sends a negative message, that I as an employee is expendable. Now, I am tempted to find other work after my contract has expired due to these fees. You have already invested WW dollars into me, how are you going to feel explaining to your boss (actually, I will do it for you if you are so inclined) that you have lost well over 5 to 10 times the amount of money you are asking me to pay out of my pocket due to a lack of foresight on the administrations part? The bottom line is this: these fees drive down the quality of work and drive away quality employees, why shouldn’t I look for another employeer and lose you thousands in the process, when you are asking me to pay this fee, which was unheard of at my last place of employment."

Within 12 hours I received an email stating my account balanced was reduced by about 60%. I thanked them and paid the remaining fee. So, it isn’t about impressing people, it is about getting people to do things for you and make your life easier. And I can explain it but this kind of behavior attracts people, not in a sexual way, but in terms of people wanting to know you and be on your team. Truly, I am more of an introverted person. I like having my close friends but really don’t like dealing with people in general. Hell, I never thought I had any of those qualities until some of my coworkers suggested I stay at my old job and become a supervisor.

I could tell you many stories of how having a similar kind of approach to solving problems has saved my ass.


Its a strange thing that peoples minds do to create a feeling of safety and have the ability to function. I grew up the youngest of five in a very violent household and sometimes have to trick myself into thinking the same thing.

No amount of muscle or fighting will convince that beat up little kid between your ears of anything different.


Reminds me of the old saying, ‘Bodybuilders are just scared little boys in gorilla suits.’


Some might be. Its too broad of an activity to only be driven by a couple of motives though.

Like when people say that cops were just kids who got picked on as kids. I know a whole family of cops that just wanted to follow in their dads footsteps.