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Competitive Bodybuilding: Positive Deviance, Body Image Pathology, or Modern Day Competitive Sport?

Mark T. Suffolk

The sport of competitive bodybuilding is strongly associated with muscle dysmorphia, a body-image-related psychological disorder. This theoretical article draws on existing concepts, namely stereotyping, prejudice, and positive deviance in sport, to explicate the notion that competitive bodybuilding and body-image disturbance may be mistakenly conflated. The perspective offered here goes beyond the countercultural physique to argue that a negative social perception of competitive bodybuilders obscures the pragmatic necessity to develop a hypermesomorphic physique. Competitive bodybuilders (CBs) and athletes in mainstream competitive sport exhibit congruent psychobehavioral tendencies. In a competitive-sport context, behavior among CBs perceived as pathological may primarily represent a response to the ideological sporting ethic of “win at all costs,” not extreme body-image disturbance. Analyzing the psychobehavioral characteristics of CBs within a sporting rather than a pathological framework, allows for a contextual assessment of behaviors to then determine the clinical significance relative to the research population under investigation.