A new study suggests some men are suffering with body image anxieties that could ruin their health.
Are men in the UAE suffering dangerously in pursuit of the perfect body?
There's no denying that chaps in the UAE are taking a long hard look at themselves in the mirror these days. But are they spending too long staring, with perhaps too critical an eye on what they see?
While the rise of the well-groomed "metrosexual" male, with his beach-ready body and attention to his looks, may seem like a very healthy pursuit when compared with the alternative, new data suggests that some men are putting their lives on the line in pursuit of the so-called perfect physique.
Research carried out in the UK reveals that one in three men would sacrifice a year of their life for a toned body. The survey of 384 men also revealed that almost 20 per cent of men "feel fat" every day - with a similar number claiming they were afraid of gaining weight on a daily basis.
Such responses have attracted the attention of health specialists concerned that more and more men are falling victim to the kind of body image anxiety that many women have suffered with for years.
"The findings demonstrate that body image is an issue for everyone," Dr Phillippa Diedrichs, a study co-author at the University of the West of England in Bristol, says. "We need to take a collaborative approach towards promoting an environment that values diversity in appearance and promotes healthy body image."
One of the more surprising aspects researchers discovered were findings that 95 per cent of men see or hear conversations that reinforce the ideal of leanness and muscularity in the media, and four in five gym members said they took part in this type of "body talk" while exercising.
"Beer belly" and "chubby" were among the most commonly used phrases by men discussing how other men look, along with words that reinforced a muscular body shape including "six pack" and "ripped".
The research reflects previous findings that listening to a discussion about body shape for five minutes can be enough to lower women's confidence in their figure. "Similarly to women, the majority of men feel personally affected by negative 'body talk'," says Dr Maurizio Viel, the chief cosmetic surgeon at the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery in Dubai. "This is reinforced by images of masculinity within the media which present almost unattainable ideals and levels of perfection to the male consumer."
Adds Viel: "One in five men compare their physiques to those of magazine models, film stars and athletes such as David Beckham. It's becoming increasingly common for men to seek out cosmetic procedures in an attempt to match these."
The most recent statistics from the Emirates Medical Association shows that almost half (47 per cent) of people having cosmetic surgery in the UAE are men. "Men like 'Vaser' [an ultrasound-assisted liposuction system] for body contouring mostly, shedding the bit they can't get rid of at the gym. They also have chest reductions, liposuction and face and neck lifts are very popular," says Viel.
Of more concern to health experts is the fact that a small number of men in the UK survey revealed that they had made themselves sick to control their weight at least once - a few also admitted that they had used laxatives in an attempt to avoid weight gain.
It's not just UK men resorting to such extremes, either. "There's no doubt the issue of 'body image' is a concern among some men in the UAE, almost to the point of obsession," explains Dr Roghy McCarthy, a clinical psychologist at the Counselling & Development Clinic in Jumeirah, Dubai. "Perhaps it's even more so here because many of the young men living and working here are in a financial position to take advantage of services such as cosmetic surgery. The climate also means they're more inclined to want to show off that perfect look."
Viel agrees. "Despite the downturn in the nation's economy, patients seem to have the money to pay for cosmetic procedures," he says. "It proves how much of a priority men in the UAE are perceiving their looks to be."
The pressure to get perfection drives an increasing amount of men to undergo surgery to change their look. "We have a young society here and the fear of looking 'old' or 'out of shape' can fuel this," explains McCarthy, who also claims that some men are also using other "coping mechanisms" to deal with such pressures. "Rates of eating disorders such as bulimia among men are on the rise here just as they are elsewhere," she says, citing anecdotal evidence.
"Exact figures are difficult to ascertain because, by definition, it's not something people are open about," explains McCarthy. "We're more aware of the problem among women because they are often referred to a psychologist, by a doctor, and a record of women reporting eating disorders is kept. But with men the interaction between them and doctors is different, so we really don't know for sure to what extent it's an issue."
Dr Viel has also noticed that for some the obsession with looks can be detrimental to their health. "I have come across these people and I have nearly always turned them away," he explains. "Well-placed, natural-look surgery is the key, and that's what most men are after."
While data for the country is scarce, one study from Oman, carried out in 2009, identified a trend for eating disorders among teenage men. Meanwhile, Dr Justin Thomas, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi who writes columns for The National, has also carried out studies into eating disorders. His published work so far has focused upon Emirati women, but his team is currently extending his work to look at body issue and eating problems among young men.
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