Tag Archives: Sense of Self

The Self As Soliloquy – The Mind’s Inner Voices Make A Winner Or Loser Out Of You During Exercise And Competitive Sport

I was watching the highlights of an Australian Open warm-up tournament a few days ago, and noted how players often spoke aloud to themselves during the game, either congratulating themselves, or telling themselves to keep on going, or being critical of themselves when making an error. I have been trying to keep cycling through the Christmas break, even though it has been pretty cold and occasionally icy in the North-East UK, and I have had to have conversations with myself (internally, rather than out loud like the tennis players) both to get on the bike when sitting in front of a warm fire with a good book seemed a better option, and when I was out on the cycle path, and my toes and fingers felt frozen, to not stop, and keep on going. I have always been aware of the inner dialogue that continues incessantly in my mind throughout the day, either thinking of a science puzzle that I can’t work out, or how best to sort out a challenge at work, or being reminded by an inner voice to get presents for the family for Christmas, amongst a million other discussions I have with myself, and I am sure each of you reading this is aware of these inner voices similarly. Curiously, there has not been a lot of attention paid to inner dialogue or the inner voices, which is surprising given how central one’s inner dialogue is to one’s life, and are indeed a constant component of one’s life of which one is usually very aware of. Even less work has been done on the effect of inner voices, either positive or negative, on athletic performance (or indeed any type of performance, be it sport, work, or any activity which puts stress on one), or indeed if one’s inner voices alter during either competitive sport or exercise participation. A few years ago, I worked with one of the absolute legends and mavens in the Sport Science academic community, Professor Carl Foster, from Wisconsin in the USA, in order to try and understand a bit more about this curious yet fascinating subject, and we eventually published a theoretical review article on it a decade ago. All of these recent observations reminded me of this article we published, and the role of inner voices and the inner dialogue they create, and how this inner dialogue affects, and is altered by, competitive sporting activities and challenges.

Inner speech has also been described as self-talk, private speech, inner dialogue, soliloquy, egocentric speech, sub-vocal speech, and self-communicative speech, amongst others. Inner speech is predominantly overt during early childhood, and children up to four years of age believe that a mind of a person sitting quietly is ‘not doing anything’ and is ‘completely empty of all thoughts and ideas’. With increasing age, and associated increasing self-awareness, children reduce the quantity of overt inner speech, particularly when in large groups or around teachers, until overt inner speech only occurs when the child is alone, due to them becoming aware of the social consequences of unchecked overt inner speech. This change of inner speech from overt to covert appears to be related to appropriate physical and cognitive developmental changes, as children with Down’s syndrome continue to use overt inner speech, and folk who are Schizophrenic also use overt inner speech, and indeed feel that their inner speech is generated ‘outside’ of their heads and by an external agent, and often feel tormented by the ongoing dialogue which to them appears to be ‘outside’ of their minds. In adolescents, increasing negative or self-critical inner speech has been related to psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and anger.

As described above, the makeup and function of the inner voices during sport have not been extensively researched previously. However, Van Raalte and colleagues examined overt inner speech in tennis players, and found that a large percentage was negative, and that there was a correlation between the quantity of negative inner speech and losing, which was not present between positive inner speech and winning, a somewhat puzzling finding. The laboratory group of father and son academics Lew and James Hardy have done some excellent work in this field. A study by their group, first authored by Kimberley Gammage, where they looked at the nature of inner speech in a variety of sports, found that 95% of athletes reported they used / were aware of inner speech during exercise (why 5% of folk do not is perhaps more curious than those folk that did), and noticed their inner speech to a greater degree when they were fatigued, when they wanted to terminate the exercise bout, and near the end of the exercise bout. Their inner speech was described most often to be phrases (such as ‘keep it up’ or ‘don’t stop’) rather than single words or sentences, and interestingly, they used the second person tense more frequently than the first person during exercise. The athletes perceived that they used inner speech for motivational purposes, maintaining drive and effort, maintaining focus and arousal, and to a lesser degree for cognitive functions such as ensuring correct race strategy, or using methods that would enhance their performance, such as breathing regularly. Helgo Schomer and colleagues did a great study where they got folk doing long Sunday runs to take walkie-talkies (the study was done in the 1980’s) and he would contact them randomly during the run and ask what they were thinking. While there will always be a degree of self-censorship of personal thoughts and inner discussion, he found that at lower running speeds, most inner speech was described as conversational chatter or problem solving social or work issues, and at higher speeds monitoring their body function, and the environment.

While all this work is excellent in describing what type of inner speech is ‘spoken’ at rest and during exercise, some of the best ‘deep’ theoretical work I have ever read in this field was generated by George Mead more than a hundred years ago, where he suggested that inner speech is a ‘soliloquy’ which occurs between at least two inner voices, rather than a single voice in one’s mind / brain. Mead defined these as an ‘I’ voice, representing the voice describing a current activity, or urging one to act, and a ‘Me’ voice, which takes the ‘perspective of the other’ and with which the ‘I’ voice is assessed. Mead also suggested that previous social interactions with other individuals allowed one to gain a viewpoint of oneself or one’s actions or thoughts, and therefore that ‘taking the perspective of the other’ is the ability to understand that another person’s viewpoint may be different to one’s own, and to use that opinion to change one’s own behaviour or viewpoint. Inner speech thus allows or creates the internalisation of this mechanism for taking another person’s perspective, as one can describe to a ‘real’ person (someone whom one has interacted with in the past that was significant to one), or an imagined person one has never previously interacted with, in one’s mind the reasons for behaving in a certain manner in a previous or ‘current’ situation, or how one is ‘feeling’ the effects of current activity, and the ‘Me’ voice takes the opinion of the other (and can be a conglomeration of many others, and be a ‘generalised other’) to assess the validity of how one says one is feeling. These concepts fit in well with the findings of Gammage and colleagues, who as described above, suggested that inner speech as mostly being reported as occurring in the second person tense (‘Me’), but with first person speech also occurring (which would be the ‘I’ voice), though why the ‘Me’ voice would be ‘heard’ more than the ‘I’ voice during exercise, if the findings of Gammage and colleagues occur in all athletes during all sporting events, is not clear.

A further fascinating hypothesis about inner speech was made by Morin and others, who suggested that inner speech was crucial for self-awareness (and one’s sense of self), by creating a time distance or ‘wedge’ between the ‘self’ and the mental or physical activities which the ‘self’ was currently experiencing. This time-wedge would enable retrospective analysis of the activity in which the individual was currently immersed in, thus facilitating the capacity for self-observation and thus both awareness of the ‘meaning’ of the activity and its effect on the individual, and self-awareness per se. In other words, if an individual was completely immersed in their current experience, they could not understand the meaning of the experience, because a time or perceptual gap is needed to create the time required to get enough ‘distance’ from the activity and assess and understand the meaning of an experience, and whether it is a threat to the individual if it continues. Inner speech therefore has been suggested to be the action that generates the time-wedge by creating a redundancy of self-information. This redundancy is the result of the difference between the actual physiological changes associated with the experience creating one unit of information about the event, and the descriptive ‘I’ inner speech creating a second (retrospective) unit of information of the same activity or event, separated from the first unit of information by a time-wedge. This time-wedge and redundancy of the same information allows retrospective comparison and analysis of the two different activities – the one in real time, and the other a retrospective copy, and a judgement is made of what is happening and how best to respond to it, by the ‘Me’ voice. This theory would suggest that all inner speech is retrospective, even the ‘I’ voice, and allows the retrospective analysis of an event in an ordered and structured way. Lonnie Athens, one of my all-time best creative thinkers, suggested 10 ‘rules’ that well describe all these complex inner speech processes described above: 1) People talk to themselves as if they are talking to someone else, except they talk in short hand; 2) When people talk to each other, they tell themselves at the same time what they are saying; 3) While people are talking to us, we have to tell ourselves what they are saying; 4) we always talk with an interlocutor when we soliloquise – the ‘phantom others’ (which is the ‘Me’ voice as described above); 5) The phantom community is the one and the many. However, we can normally only talk to one phantom at a time during our soliloquies; 6) Soliloquising transforms our raw, bodily sensations into perceived emotions. If it were not for our ability to soliloquise, we would not experience perceived emotions (like fatigue during exercise) in our existence. Instead, we wold only experience a steady stream of vague body sensations; 7) Our phantom others (the ‘Me’ voice) are the hidden sources of our perceived emotions. If we generate emotions by soliloquising about our body sensations, and if our phantom others play a critical role in our soliloquies, then our phantom other must largely shape the perceived emotion we generate; 8) Our phantom community (the ‘Me’ voice) occupies the centre stage of our life whether we are alone or with others. Talking to the phantom others about an experience we are undergoing is absolutely essential to understand its emergent meaning. Only in conversation with our phantom community do we determine its ultimate meaning; 9) Significant social experiences shape our phantom community (which are incorporated into our ‘Me’ voice); and 10) Given that some soliloquies are necessarily ‘multi-party’ dialogues, conflicts of opinion are always possible during inner speech soliloquies.

Relating all this fascinating theoretical work to an exercise bout therefore – as exercise continues, and physiological sensations change, these changes would be picked up by physiological sensors in the body and transferred to the brain, where they would be raised into our conscious mind by the ‘I’ voice, which already has a time-wedge to make sense of the raw feelings. Therefore, the athlete’s ‘I’ voice would say ‘I am tired’, and the ‘Me’ voice would respond to this assessment of the ‘I’ voice, based on their ‘perspective of the other’ viewpoint. The ‘Me’ Voice may be either positive in response (motivational – ‘keep going, the rewards will be worth it’) or negative (cognitive – ‘if you keep on going, you will damage yourself’). As the race or physical activity continued, as described above in the work of Kimberley Gammage and colleagues, athletes become more aware of their inner speech, probably because the symptoms of fatigue and distress described by the ‘I’ voice becomes more profound, and more persistent, and the ‘Me’ voice has to keep on responding to the more urgent and louder voice of the ‘I’ voice’, given that the ‘I’ voice is describing changes that have greater potential to be damaging to the athlete. It is likely that the relative input of each of the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ voices (and of course the subconscious processes that generate them) are either related to, or create, the temperament and personality of the individual, and their perception of success or failure in sport. For example, the ‘Me’ voice may suggest that it is not a problem to slow down when the ‘I’ voice indicates that the current speed the athlete is producing is too fast and may damage the athlete, if the familial, genetic or psychological history that created the ‘phantom others’ / ‘Me’ voice of the athlete perceived that winning sporting events to not be of particular importance. In contrast, the ‘Me’ voice may disagree with, and disapprove of, the desire of the ‘I’ voice to slow down, if the familial, genetic, psychological history of phantom others that make up the ‘Me’ voice believed that winning was very important, and slowing down a sign of personal failure and weakness. These relative viewpoints of the ‘Me’ voice will therefore likely shape the personality and self-esteem of the athlete (and indeed, all individuals), and whether they regard themselves a success or failure, if they try to keep on going and win, or try to keep on going and slow down due to having reached their physical body limits, which may not be congruent with the athletes psychological desires and demands. Furthermore, the ‘will’ of the athlete is probably to a large degree related to the forcefulness of the ‘Me’ voice in resisting the desire of the ‘I’ voice, or if the ‘I’ voice remains relatively silent even under times of duress or hardship, and is also likely created by the family history or genetic makeup of the athlete when creating the generalised phantom other / ‘Me’ voice. The relative input of both the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ components of an individual’s inner speech and the ‘viewpoint’ of the ‘Me’ voice may therefore be the link between the temperament and performance of an athlete, or may actually be part of or influence both.

In summary therefore, those tennis players with their overt inner speech (usually accompanied by fist pumping or smashed rackets depending on its positive or negative nature) open a window for us to understand one of the most potentially crucial and amazingly complex constituents of the perceptual loop of how sensations generated by the body under stress are changed into emotions that we ‘feel’ and respond to, which both explains to us how our body is feeling, behaving and ‘doing’ by the vocalisation of an ‘I’ voice, and at the same time creates our sense of self as a result of how the dialogue responds to this explanation, vocalised as inner speech, through our ‘Me’ voice, which is both reflective and created by the phantom others which shape us and regulate us. However, the inner voices can be our worst enemies, if they are too strong, or too harsh, or too demanding on us, and if so, they are probably produced by a damaged childhood with over-demanding parents, coaches, or teasing peer children which make us feel like what we are doing is never ‘enough’, even of course though what ‘enough’ is will always be a relative thing, and different for every different person on earth. Some Sport Psychologists have tried to improve sporting performance of athletes they work with by altering the content and nature of their inner speech, though Lonnie Athens made the relevant point that if one’s inner speech was too changeable, one’s sense of self would be fluid and not permanent, which in most folk it seems to be, and that only extreme psychological trauma, such as assault, divorce, near death or death of a loved one, where a state of existence is created which the ‘Me’ voice has no frame of reference, will allow the ‘Me’ voice be changed, and of course, it may change from a positive or neutral to a more negative ‘commentary state’. Having said that, my own inner voices have changed subtly as I have aged, and are (fortunately) more tolerant and forgiving as compared to what they were like in my youth. Often when doing sport, in contrast to when I was young when my ‘Me’ voice was insistent I keep going or be a failure, my inner voices now I am in my fifties often encourage me to slow down and look after myself, now that my body is old, less efficient, and damaged by the excesses of sport and wilful behaviour of my youth. So clearly there is some capacity to change and maintain one’s sense of self. Having said that, my sense of self is also subtly different from what it was in my youth, so this may be related to the changes in the make-up of my inner voices (and their underlying subconscious control mechanisms, perhaps due to the desires of my youth mostly being fulfilled in my life to date), or may not be related to them at all. More research work is needed for us to better understand all these concepts and mental activities that are continuously active in our mind and brain.

At this point in time our inner speech is the only real-time window we have into our subconscious, and is both ‘ourselves’ (as hard a concept this is to understand and accept) and our continuous companion through each minute of each day of our life. Often one wishes to turn off one’s inner voices, and interestingly some drugs do seem reduce the amount of ‘heard’ inner voices, but this does open up the philosophical challenge of whether if one has no inner speech, whether one will be aware that one is conscious, or aware of one’s current state of being. My inner voiced has been ‘shouting at me’ during the last two paragraphs of writing this, telling me I am tired and hungry, and it’s time to stop writing for the day and go in from my garden shed home working office to spend time with the family, and get some food and drink to replenish my energy levels. While I resisted their siren tune until completing this piece of writing, now it’s done, I will bow to my inner voices incessant request and sign off and head in for some welcome rest and relaxation. Of course I know that after a short period of relaxing, my inner speech will be chattering at me again, telling me to go back to my garden shed office and check the grammar and spelling of this article, and start preparing for the next. There is no peace for the wicked, particularly from our ever present, and ever demanding, inner voices!

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Muscle Dysmorphia And The Adonis Complex – Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Why Am I Not The Biggest Of Them All

I have noticed recently that my wonderful son Luke, who is in the pre-teenage years, has become more ‘aware’ of his body and discusses things like ‘six-pack abs’ and the need to be strong and have big muscles, probably like most boys of his age. I remember an old colleague at the University of Free State mention to me that her son, who was starting his last year at school, and who was a naturally good sports-person, had started supplementing his sport with gym work as he perceived that ‘all boys his age were interested in having big muscles’, as my colleague described it. A few decades ago, my old colleague and friend Mike Lambert, exercise physiologist and scientist without peer, and I did some work researching the effect of anabolic steroid use on bodybuilders, and noted that there were not just physical but also psychological changes in some of the trial participants. I did a fair amount of time in the gym in my University days, and always wondered why some of the biggest folk in the gym seemed to do their workouts with long pants and tracksuit tops, sometimes with hoods up, even on hot days, and how in conversation with them I was often told that despite them being enormous (muscular rather than obese-wise), they felt that they were small compared to their fellow bodybuilders and weightlifters, and that they needed to work harder and longer in the gym than they were currently doing to get results. All of these got me thinking of the fascinating syndrome known as muscle dysmorphia, also known as the Adonis complex, ‘bigorexia’, or ‘reverse anorexia’ and what causes the syndrome / disorder in the folk that develop it.

Muscle dysmorphia is a disorder mostly affecting males (though females can also be affected) where there is a belief or delusion that one’s body is too small, thin, insufficiently muscular or lean, despite it often being normal or exceptionally large and muscular, and related to obsessional efforts to increase muscularity and muscle mass by weightlifting exercise routines, dietary regimens and supplements, and often anabolic steroid use. This perception of being not muscular enough becomes severely distressing for the folk suffering from the syndrome, and the desire to enhance their muscularity eventually impacts negatively on the sufferer’s daily life, work and social interactions. The symptoms usually begin in early adulthood, and are most prevalent in body-builders, weight-lifters, and strength-based sports participants (up to 50 percent in some bodybuilder population studies, for example). Worryingly, muscle dysmorphia is increasingly being diagnosed in younger / adolescent folks, and across the spectrum of sports participants, and even in young folk who begin lifting weights for aesthetic rather than sport-specific purposes, and who from the start perceive they need to go to gym to improve their ‘body beautiful’. Two old academic friends of mine, Dave Tod and David Lavallee, published an excellent article on muscle dysmorphia a few years ago, where they suggested that the diagnostic criteria for the disorder are that the sufferer needs to be pre-occupied with the notion that their bodies are insufficiently lean and muscular, and that the preoccupation needs to cause distress or impairment in social or occupational function, including at least two of the four following criteria: 1) they give up / excuse themselves from social, occupational or recreational activities because of the need to maintain workout and diet schedules; 2) they avoid situations where their bodies may be exposed to others, or ‘endure’ such situations with distress or anxiety; 3) their concerns about their body cause distress or impairment in social, occupational or other areas of their daily functioning; and 4) they continue to exercise and monitor their diet excessively, or use physique-enhancing supplements or drugs such as anabolic steroids, despite knowledge of potential adverse physical or psychological consequences of these activities. Folk with muscle dysmorphia spend a lot of their time agonizing over their ‘situation’, even if it is in their mind rather than reality, look at their physiques in the mirror often, and are always of the feeling that they are smaller or weaker than what they really are, so there is clearly some cognitive dissonance / body image problem occurring in them.

What causes muscle dysmorphia is still not completely known, but what is telling is that it was first observed as a disorder in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and was first defined as such by Harrison Pope, Katharine Phillips, Roberto Olivardia and colleagues in a seminal publication of their work on it in 1997. There are no known reports of this disorder from earlier times, and as suggested by these academics, it’s increasing development appears to be related a growing social obsession with ‘maleness’ and muscularity, that is evident in the media and marketing adverts of and for the ‘ideal’ male in the last few decades. While women have had relentless pressure on them from the concept of increasing ‘thinness’ as the ‘ideal body’ perspective for perhaps a century or longer from a social media perspective, with for example the body size of female models and advertised clothes sizes decreasing over the years (and it has been suggested that in part this is responsible for the increase in the prevalence in anorexia nervosa in females), it appears that males are now under the same marketing / media ‘spotlight’, but more from a muscularity rather than a ‘thinness’ perspective, with magazines, newspapers and social media often ‘punting’ this muscular ‘body ideal’ for males when selling male-targeted health and beauty products. Some interesting changes have occurred which appear to support this concept, for example the physique of GI-Joe toys for young boys changing completely in the last few decades, apparently being much more muscular in the last decade or two compared to their 1970 prototypes. Matching this change, in 1972 only 15-20 percent of young men disliked their body image, while in 2000 approximately 50% percent of young men disliked their body image. Contemporary young men (though older men may also be becoming increasingly ‘caught up’ in similar desire for muscularity as contemporary culture puts a price on the ‘body beautiful’ right through the life cycle) perceive that they would like to have 13 kg more muscle mass on average, and believe that women would prefer them to have 14 kg more muscle mass to be most desirable, though interestingly when women were asked about this, women were happy with the current mass of their partners, and many were indeed not attracted to heavily-muscled males. Therefore, it appears that social pressure may play a large part in creating an environment where men perceive their bodies in a negative light, and this may in turn lead to the development of a ‘full blown’ muscle dysmorphia syndrome in some folk.

While the concept that social pressure plays a big role in the development of muscle dysmorphia, other factors have also been suggested to play a part. Muscle dysmorphia is suggested to be associated with, or indeed a sub-type of, the more general body dysmorphic disorder (and anorexia nervosa, though of course anorexia nervosa is about weight loss, rather than weight gain), where folk develop a pathological dislike of one or several body parts or components of their appearance, and develop a preoccupation with hiding or attempting to fix their perceived body flaw, often with cosmetic surgery (and this apparently affects up to 3 percent of the population). It has been suggested that both muscle dysmorphia and body dysmorphic disorder may be caused by a problem of ‘somatoperception’ (knowing one’s own body), which may be related to organic lesions or processing issues in the right parietal lobe of the brain, which is suggested to be the important area of the brain for own-body perception and the sense of self. In folk that have lesions of the right parietal cortex, they perceive themselves to be ‘outside’ of their body (autoscopy), or that body parts are missing / there is a lack of awareness of the existence of parts of the body (asomatognosia). Non-organic / psychological factors have also been associated with muscle dysmorphia, apart from media and socio-cultural influences, including being a victim of childhood bullying, being teased about levels of muscularity when young, or being exposed to violence in their family environment. It has also been suggested that it is associated with appearance-based rejection sensitivity, which is defined as anxiety-causing expectations of social rejection based on physical appearance – in other words, for some reason, folk with muscle dysmorphia are anxious that they will be socially rejected due to their perceived lack of muscularity and associated appearance deficits. Whether this rejection sensitivity is due to prior negative social interactions, or episodes of childhood teasing or body shaming, has not been well elicited. Interestingly, while studies have reported inconclusive correlations with body mass index, body fat, height, weight, and pubertal development age, there have been strong correlations reported with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, perfectionism, substance abuse, and eating and exercise-dependence / addiction disorders, as well as with the clinical depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. There does not appear to be a strong relationship to narcissism, which perhaps is surprising. Whether these are co-morbidities or they have a common pathophysiology at either a psychological or organic level is yet to be determined. It has been suggested that a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor prescription (a type of antidepressant) may improve the symptoms of muscle dysmorphia. While these treatment modalities would support a link between muscle dysmorphia and the psychological disorders described above, the efficacy of these treatment choices is still controversial, and there is unfortunately a high relapse rate. It is unfortunately a difficult disorder to ‘cure’, given that all folk need to eat regularly in order to live, and most folk incorporate exercise into their daily routines, which make managing ‘enough’ but not ‘excessive’ amounts of weightlifting and dietary regulation difficult to regulate in folk who have a disordered body image.

Muscle dysmorphia appears therefore to be a growing issue in contemporary society, which is increasing in tandem with the increased media-related marketing drive for the male ‘body beautiful’, which now appears to be operating at a similar level to the ‘drive for thinness’ media marketing which has blighted the female perception of body image for a long time, and has potentially led to an increased incidence of body image disorders such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic syndrome. However none of these are gender specific, and it is not clear how much of a relationship these body image disorders have with either organic brain or clinical psychological disorders, as described above. It appears to be a problem mostly in young folk, with older folk being more accepting of their body abnormalities and imperfections, whether these are perceived or real, though sadly it appears that there is a growing incidence of muscle dysmorphia and other body image disorder in older age, as societies relationship and expectations of ‘old age’ changes. As I see my son become more ‘interested’ in his own physique and physical development, which must have obviously been caused by either discussions with his friends, or due to what he reads, or what the ‘actors’ in his computer games look like which he so enjoys playing, like all his friends, I hope he (and likewise my daughter) will always enjoy his sport but have a healthy self-image through the testing teenage and early adult period of time. I remember those bodybuilders my colleague Mike and I worked with all those years ago, and how some of them were comfortable with their large physiques, while with some it was clearly an ordeal to take off their shirts in order to be tested in the lab as part of the trials we did back then. The mind is very sensitive to suggestion, and it is fascinating to see that males now are being ‘barraged’ with advertising suggesting they are not good enough, and if they buy a certain product it will make them stronger, fitter, better, and thus more attractive, to perhaps the same level females have been subjected to for a long period of time. The mind is also sensitive to bullying, teasing and body shaming, as well as a host of other social issues which impinge on it particularly in its childhood and early adolescent development phases. It’s difficult to know where this issue will ‘end’, and whether governmental organizations will ‘crack down’ on such marketing and media hype which surely ‘target’ folks (usually perceived) physical inadequacies or desires, or if it is too late to do so and such media activity has become innate and part of the intrinsic fabric of our daily life and social experience. Perhaps education programs are the way to go at school level, though these are unfortunately often not successful.

There are so many daily challenges one has to deal with, it may seem almost bizarre that folk can spend time worrying about issues that are not even potentially ‘real’, but for the folk staring obsessively at themselves in the mirror, or struggling to stop the intrusive thoughts about their perceived physical shortcomings, these challenges are surely very real, and surely all-consuming and often overwhelming. In Greek mythology Adonis was a well-muscled half man, half god, whose was considered to be the ultimate in masculine beauty, and according to mythology his masculine beauty was so great that he won the love of Aphrodite, the queen of all the gods, because of it. Sadly for the folk with muscle dysmorphia, while they may be chasing this ideal, they are likely to be too busy working on creating their own perfect physique to have time to ‘woo’ their own Aphrodite, and indeed, contemporary Aphrodite’s don’t appear to even appreciate the level of muscularity they eventually obtain. The mirror on the wall, as it usually is, is a false siren, beckoning those weak enough to fall into its thrall – no matter how big, never to appear as the biggest or most beautiful of all.


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