In his multimedia one-man showcase, “MuscleBound, ” Michael Feldman paints a sharp, more detailed picture of men with body image disorders, asking what drives them, what scares them and why they hide their issues. His performance on Wednesday night at Rackham Amphitheater examined these questions through three characters: Josh, a 19-year-old gay male who is an exercise bulimic who binges and then purges through exercise; Jim, a muscular trainer who secretly takes steroids; and Nicholas, a filmmaker who, in documenting gym culture, falls victim to the disorders he seeks to expose.
As if to parallel Nicholas’s documentary, clips from Feldman’s own interviews are interspersed throughout the theatrical performance. Men from all walks of life – gay and straight, steroid users and anorexics – reveal how their eating and exercise disorders have developed, how much weight they have gained and lost, and why, despite knowing the risks, they continue their behavior.
“Nothing tastes as good as being thin,” admitted one exercise bulimic.
In a courageous move, Feldman appears in the documentary clips and tells the audience of his own personal battle with eating disorders and exercise bulimia. Added to the film are advertising clips celebrating the Adonis-like ideal male image and a fictional reality show, “America’s Next Top Stud-Muffin.”
Audiences responded well to Feldman’s innovative use of film as well as the humor that peppered the performance. Feldman lightened the mood with scenes of the love affair between Josh and ice cream and Jim’s extreme workout routine amid the serious messages warning against the dangers and motivations associated with these disorders.
University Health Service has opened up a wealth of new resources that address body image disorders. The campaign specifically recognizes the unspoken prevalence of men who suffer from these disorders globally and on campus.
“Body image and eating disorders are very complex and affect men and women of all cultures, races and sexual identities,” said Erica Noelle Dodde, health educator for UHS. “We brought ‘MuscleBound’ to campus because (Feldman’s) performance is compelling, theatrical and hard-hitting. We hope his performance will help students to see that all genders struggle with eating disorders and body image issues.”
“MuscleBound” also explores the double-standard regarding appropriate eating and exercise habits for both men and women.
“I look at what we do when we’re alone versus otherwise … the issues men hide so that they are not marked as feminine or homosexual,” Feldman said.
Feldman recognized himself in the subjects he studied while compiling a piece on gym culture, sparking a new self-awareness and motivation to produce “MuscleBound.” While researching, he saw men struggling, undiagnosed, with body dysmorphic disorder, a sensitivity to imagined bodily flaws. This frequently leads to fixations on physical appearance or inverted anorexia – also called muscle dysmorphia or “bigorexia” – in which men who bulge with muscles still feel weak and obsessively lift weights to bulk up even more. “It’s part of gym culture, unfortunately, that bigger people in the gym look down on smaller men and make them feel worthless,” Feldman said.
Frequently, steroids are used, without thought to long-term consequences, to achieve perfect pectorals or six-pack abs. Side effects typically referenced as scare tactics, such as shrinking testicles or acne, neglect to address the inevitable psychological changes that occur with steroid use. “When a truly nice guy shatters someone’s jaw, it makes you realize that steroids really change a whole psyche,” Feldman said. “They make you someone you never thought you’d become.”
Recent controversy, particularly in Major League Baseball, has led to more public discussion of the negativity of steroid use. Though the MLB has fined and suspended players, the publicity has also made steroids a topic of household discussion.
“It’s frightening because, to a certain degree, it’s OK or accepted for an athlete to use steroids. When it becomes acceptable to take drugs to change a body, where does it end? What effects will that have on kids?” Feldman said.
Wednesday’s well-attended performance of “MuscleBound” was undoubtedly successful in creating awareness and bringing those who suffer out of their feelings of isolation.
“After seeing this, I feel like some of those big guys at the gym are weaker than I am,” Harrison, an anonymous Residential College sophomore, said.