What Is A Perfect Man? Strong, Lean or Fat?

The question of the perfect man, the holotype of the human male, came up on QI. It turns out that there is not an official perfect man as previous attempts to chose one failed.

It was suggested that Leondardo’s Vitruvian Man represents a perfect man, which is inspired from the works of a Roman architect, Vitruvius.

Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

“The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De Architectura.

Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture.” Source: Wikipedia


It is interesting to see that this representation of perfect is very similar to an average endurance athlete today. It is not as muscular as a bodybuilder or pro footballer and not as lean as a long distance / marathon runner, but sits nicely somewhere in the middle.

This body type is also common amongst many martial artists (at least those that do not increase their weight to fight heavyweight by building up muscle). It is essentially a typical, lean, strong and fit person.

This is really what all men should strive for (at least all that are not involved in a specific sport).

Attaining a body like this is not as hard as you may think. Regular exercise, ideally daily, with bodyweight workouts, some longer cardio sessions and some weight training, combined with a healthy diet, will produce a body like this given enough time and commitment. Diet is an essential part, and where most people actually fail.

For more on this subject, watch the QI clip:

More Men Are Unhappy With Their Bodies

A study published in September 2008 reported that 1 in 5 men are not happy with the way they look. There are more men suffering from eating disorders now than ever before, and for each man who has an eating disorder, there are 10 more who are very unhappy with their body, and want to do something to change it.

Dr John Morgan, from in Leeds based Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders says that “one in five young men have some degree of quite extreme distress.” There has been a large increase in the number of men suffering from both anorexia and bulimia.

The problems affect young men and teenage boys more so than other age groups. This is a sign that the celebrity culture that always used to focus on women, and has been blamed for female eating disorders, has now led to the increase in men worried about how they appear to others. Traditional most men cared little for their physical self below their suits and groomed hair, but now men are more concerned over body fat and body imperfections than ever before. It is estimated that 10-15% of all men who are unhappy with themselves suffer from an eating disorder.

“We know that 1 in 20 young people suffer from some degree of disordered eating and that at least 15% of them are men and yet that’s a tip of an iceberg. There are men who have problems with compulsive exercise and excessive bodybuilding who have an illness, but we haven’t defined them. Our definitions of illness have been focused on women, rather than men.” Dr John Morgan

A paper by the Eating Disorder Association, now known as B-Eat (Beat Eating Disorders) written in 2000 revealed that not too little was being done to help men with eating disorders. However, over the last eight years, the situation has got worse, as the problem has been ignored. In fact, some of the centres to research and aid men with eating disorders have actually closed in the last eight years. This is mainly due to the misconception that eating disorders do not affect men. The cause is a combination of limited funding and a lack of interest from local and national government.

In one reported case, a young teenager called George, fell very ill with anorexia, however doctors failed to diagnose the problem. He was tested for cancer, Aids, gluten allergies, and other hormonal problems and conditions, but all results came back negative. The teen obviously knew why he was ill, but he did not tell the doctor. The situation worsened and the teen was sent to a clinic, where he was told that he only had one month left to live. His body was eating its own muscles and organs to survive.

“Anorexia dictates everything you do. Everything that your healthy mind says is right, ‘You can eat this, it wont make you fat at all, in fact, it’s completely healthy, it’s what normal people do. But then anorexia would jump in straight off and be like – ‘What are you doing, this is terrible? You’re driven by an evil, deceiving affliction that’s not good, it’s really wrong’.” George – teenage anorexic boy.

Dr John Morgan said he believes images of male beauty in the media are part of the problem, and that there’s now just as much pressure on young men to look slim as there is on women. “The ideal male body image has changed into quite an unhealthy shape,” he admitted. Images of David Beckham, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon all make many men feel inadequate, and prompt them to take action to lose fat. However, they do not realise that to look like the celebrities, and healthy diet and lots of exercise is the key, not aggressive dieting.

The times are changing. In the past men were happy having a bit of a beer belly, but now, both men and boys are under huge pressures to look good. Dr John Morgan explains that even though being slim, muscular, having a six-pack, with big arms, and a slim waist, has become the cultural ‘norm’, it’s not a naturally obtainable figure.

He adds that “it’s completely unhealthy, and to achieve that sort of shape you’ve got to be either working out for hours in a gym, making yourself sick, or taking certain kinds of illegal drugs.”

Problems are not restricted to eating disorders either, as last month there was a case where steroids scarred a bodybuilder’s chest and back after he had been taking large doses without realizing the health risks.

More like this in the Health News section

  6 comments for “What Is A Perfect Man? Strong, Lean or Fat?

  1. MotleyHealth
    September 18, 2008 at 7:27 am

    The comments made by Dr John Morgan have caused outrage in the bodybuilding community, with many simply claiming that his statement that “it’s completely unhealthy, and to achieve that sort of shape you’ve got to be either working out for hours in a gym, making yourself sick, or taking certain kinds of illegal drugs” is simply not true.

    An athletic body us attainable through hardwork and a healthy diet alone, and legal supplements such as protein shakes cause no known harm either.

    What do you think? Let us know about your experiences in trying to attain the ideal body.

  2. An angry bodybuilder
    September 22, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    I am sorry, but Dr. Morgan’s comments are really a load of rubbish. I have been bodybuilding for over 6 years now, and I have always relied on a healthy diet and protein supplements. I do not see much of this sickness in gyms that he speaks of. I find these comments very insulting, as do others in my gym. There are many natural bodybuilders out here in the real world, and we do not spend all our life shooting up in the gym!

  3. MotleyHealth
    September 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    You are not the only one with these opinions. We have had several comments so far, but yours is the first that we could publish! Where do you train? It would be good to here from others at your gym.

  4. Anietie
    September 23, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    From his comments, one would imagine that the said Dr has a beer belly, and is frustrated at being unable to get if off. I have never been in a gym once in my life, have never taken any supplement or steroid, I only eat healthy and do bodyweight exercises and HIIT for maximum of an hour daily, and yet I have a visible six pack, though not ripped, and I haven’t fallen sick in the past 1 year since I started! so what is he really saying? “completely unhealthy”?! that’s a rather misguided statement coming from a Doctor! he needs to explain what makes such a figure completely unhealthy!

  5. MotleyHealth
    September 24, 2008 at 1:59 am

    well, here he is:

  6. MotleyHealth
    September 24, 2008 at 2:03 am

    I think that Dr. Morgan is doing a good job at highlighting the problems that many people are facing. I think that he may have made an error of judgement in his choice of words, and in the way that he stereotyped bodybuilders. But his point is that people are killing themselves to try to make themselves look “perfect”. Any activity which has the potential to cause more harm than good needs to be highlighted. His words have certainly made people more aware, so maybe his opinion is that upsetting a few people is justified if a few others take heed and adopt a healthier way to get fit.

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