Professional Male Athletes Struggle With Body Image Issues Too

Cody Miller at the Olympic trials. (Photo: imgur)
Cody Miller at the Olympic trials. (Photo: imgur)

Being plagued with body image issues and insecurities is currently more common than ever, impacting individuals of all shapes and sizes. However, one would think that professional athletes, with their super-toned figures and dedication to diet and exercise, would easily evade this issue. Cody Miller, though, who recently qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, has opened up about his own struggles, debunking the widely held belief.

Miller, 24, was diagnosed with a condition called pectus excavatum — described as “sunk-in chest” — as a child. According to Miller, who opened up about his health on imgur, the condition puts stress on his respiratory system, reducing his breathing capacity and giving his chest an indented appearance on his sternum, which has led him to feel insecure about his appearance.

Miller's sunk-in chest. (Photo: imgur)
Miller's sunk-in chest. (Photo: imgur)

“Like a lot of you, I have struggled with body image problems [throughout] my life,” Miller shared. “I struggled with my appearance from a young age. I was a kid who was afraid to take off his shirt in gym class… people thought I was weird. At swim meets, I walked around the pool deck awkwardly while people stared and pointed at me. I was weird and abnormal.”

While this may have felt like a career setback early in life (especially for someone who spends a majority of his job shirtless), Miller didn’t let it stop him from chasing his dreams.

“However, I’ve realized this: No one is 100% satisfied with the way they look,” he wrote. “Everyone has [something] about themselves they dislike. And that’s OK! Professional athletes, models… everyone has their own insecurities! I’ve embraced the fact that I have a giant hole in my chest! It’s OK!”

While it’s wonderful that Miller was able to find peace with his body and achieve self-confidence over his insecurities, other male athletes are experiencing similar dissatisfaction with their appearances at a quickly increasing rate. According to a study conducted by Ohio State University, boys are taught that an over-muscularized, lean physique is the ideal. Therefore, many work hard to replicate that body type, frequently turning to negative behaviors, such as steroids, to compensate.

The study, which surveyed 882 athletes at the university (57 percent of whom were men) found that 9 percent of male athletes reported using performance-enhancing drugs or substances, 5 percent avoided situations where they had to expose their bodies because they felt insecure, and 4 percent felt they were preoccupied with feeling inadequate due to their body size.

So, with harsh expectations to be lean and muscular, it shouldn’t be surprising that athletes like Miller would experience body insecurities or even conditions like body dysmorphia. Kudos to him for overcoming his condition and the insecurities that accompanied it. Hopefully his example will inspire others to do the same.

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