2022 Trend: Toxic Muscularity Comes Clean
How bulging biceps and rippling abs have had a negative ripple effect on male body image—and how the conspiracy of silence around the rising crises of muscle dysmorphia for men and boys is finally being addressed
For a decade, we’ve seen so much forward progress around women’s body positivity in a culture that has long held such unrealistic standards for the female form: You can’t even say “weight loss” now. What’s shocking is how a rising male body image crisis—–fed by an endless stream of perfect, ripped Adonises in Hollywood, across social media, and in fitness culture—–have remained in the closet.
Our 2022 trend, “Toxic Muscularity Comes Clean”, is about how the male equivalent of the conversation about unhealthily thin female models and Barbie dolls is finally happening. The problems of muscle dysmorphia that increasingly plague men and boys globally is starting to get addressed—–even if the movement is still underdeveloped.
The trend presents a growing body of research that reveals that body image is no longer solely a “women’s issue.” For instance, a 2021 UK survey from a male suicide prevention charity and Instagram found that half of men aged 16-40 had struggled with their mental health because of how they feel about their bodies—and half pointed the finger at mainstream and social media.
The trend explores how “toxic muscularity” can be literally poisonous. Anabolic-androgenic steroid abuse is now hiding in plain sight in the improbable shape of actors, athletes, fitness influencers and action figures. The consequences, both mental and physical (sometimes fatal), will soon be hard to ignore. And steroids are merely the most notorious of an ever-expanding pharmacopeia of image- and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs) that have spread far, far beyond the fringes of “muscle culture” and backstreet gyms—to high-end health clubs and even high schools.
Steroids and other IPEDs not only impact the men and boys who take them, but also all those exposed to chemically-enhanced muscular ideals (and digital manipulation is a rising problem)—so basically all males in our culture. Toxic muscularity is contributing to the rise in male eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia (also known as “reverse anorexia” or “bigorexia”): the pathological preoccupation that you’re not muscular enough, no matter how big and lean you may be.
The trend details the pioneers and initiatives that are finally bringing the male body image crisis to light. There are new international support groups such as DUDE Mental Health. Actors who represent the muscular ideal—whether Bodyguard star, Richard Madden or the new Batman, Robert Pattison—have become the loudest critics of the muscle-worshipping culture being force-fed to men. Countries such as France and Norway have enacted new laws against digitally manipulated commercial photos. Brands such as Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty and Bonobos are blazing the trail for larger and less shredded male models.
Experts argue that the conversation around male body positivity is about a decade behind where it is for women. You could say that if men are overserved in much of society, they’ve been underserved on these issues in fitness and wellness. Everyone in those markets needs to interrogate their messages and imagery around male bodies—and this trend is meant to start a crucial new conversation and movement.
This Trendium is based on “Toxic Muscularity Comes Clean” trend from the 2022 Global Wellness Trends Report. Learn more.
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