The Adonis Complex

Mike Chessler

Perfect men-men with thick hair, flawless skin, bulging muscles, and six-pack abs-are taking over the world. They're everywhere: in the movies, on TV, on the covers of magazines. Depending on where you live, you might even see one in the flesh once in a while. It's enough to make a regular Joe feel like a regular schmoe.

And that is exactly what's happening, according to Harrison Pope, Jr., MD or PhD co-author of The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, MA.

"Men are getting a dose of the same medicine that women have been taking for years. They are seeing impossible images of male perfection in photographs and magazines, and being told that this is what they have to look like," according to Pope. The result, he says, is that men are feeling more inadequate than ever.

A Disorder of Our Own
We know that looking at those unhealthily skinny, airbrushed-within-an-inch-of their-lives models in fashion magazines have given rise to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia in women. Now men have something they can call their own: the Adonis Complex. Pope and his colleagues coined the term "Adonis Complex" to include a number of different male body image obsessions. In Greek mythology, Adonis was a half-human/half-god who represented the ideal of male beauty (he was so fine that the goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone got in a cat fight over him.)

A number of factors have contributed to the rise of the Adonis Complex, but chief among them is the advent of steroids. "Steroids have given us a distorted, chemically-induced idea of what men should look like," he says. In spite of the serious health risks posed by steroids and the fact they are illegal and banned by all major sporting leagues, their use is widespread.

Chicks Don't Dig It
Ironically, many-perhaps even most-of these intimidating images of male perfection aren't even real, Pope says, but "drug-induced." And it's not just those cartoonishly huge wrestlers who are on steroids, he says. Most of those guys on the covers of health and fitness magazines are using steroids as well.

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