BOOK REVIEWS: The Muscular Ideal

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
March/April 2008 Volume 19, Number 2
©2008 Gürze Books

The Muscular Ideal

Psychological, Social, and Medical Perspectives
Edited by J. Kevin Thompson and Guy Cafri. Washington DC: American Psychological Association; 2007, 265 pp, $59.95

As the author of an historical overview chapter asks, “Better Bodies Through Chemistry?” In an era of media-saturated, high-profile Congressional investigations into the use of growth hormones and steroids by celebrity athletes, an update on research into issues of evolving body shape preferences among some men and adolescent boys, and even some women, is particularly timely. The journal Body Image has been an intellectual focus for some of this recent work. This book, edited by J. Kevin Thompson, an eminent researcher in this field, and Guy Cafri, a productive, up-and-coming researcher, centers on topics that include “muscle dysmorphia” and issues of shape and “performance” and that in the largest sense of the term are inevitably linked.

The set of interesting introductory essays covers issues of how our culture and others define masculinity in relation to body shape (as one chapter title boldly notes, “Size Matters”). The details are addressed in subsequent chapters. As befits an academic collection, questions about definition and measurement of these concepts are reviewed carefully. The chapter concerning development and validation of the Drive for Muscularity Scale will be of particular interest for others conducting research in this area and those who wish to systematically collect data on their clinical populations. Clinical characteristics and clinical treatment of muscle dysmorphia, specifics of the administration, use and abuse of muscle-enhancing substances, the role that cosmetic surgery has come to assume in the lives of those seeking body-perfection, and forays into prevention of steroid and related drug abuse in adolescents are well covered. The chapter on influences for a more muscular female body ideal is particularly interesting, and its importance coincides with revelations that the some of the wives of celebrity athletes have themselves taken muscle-enhancing substances to “body sculpt” in preparation for photo-shoots for top sports magazines.

This book will be of particular interest to clinicians working with adolescent and adult athletes, but the issues discussed here are relevant to all who are working in the broader areas of eating disorders.


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