"I think huge musclesA lot of body-image issues are related to/centered around femininity. Thus, we have tropes such as A-Cup Angst, Hollywood Homely/Pudgy/Thin, Fat Girl, and so on. But the same way that thinness and breasts are associated with femininity, muscles are associated with masculinity. Thus, this trope, in which a character angsts about having not enough or too much muscle. There are two versions:
Are fine on men, but on me
They're kinda freaky."
Are fine on men, but on me
They're kinda freaky."
- Not Enough Muscle: The Always Male version. A weak or skinny male character angsts about not being muscular. The focus may be on how this affects his success with women, his usefulness in sports/combat, or his attractiveness. If the focus is on his success with women, Weakness Turns Her On may come into play as a solution/counterpoint. Unlike breast size, which is mostly unchangeable without surgery, it is possible to build muscle, so whether this trope is justified or not depends on there being a health reason for the male being incapable of doing so. Alternatively it could be a case of them lamenting how high the price for them to gain muscle would be (if, for example, they wouldn't have time for it without giving up parts of their lives very precious to them, or fundamentally changing who they are).
- Too Much Muscle: The Always Female version. A female character, usually an Action Girl worries that her muscles are unattractive to men. This version is similar to No Guy Wants an Amazon. Just like Weakness Turns Her On may come into play in the first version, Amazonian Beauty or Amazon Chaser may come into play in this version.
open/close all folders
- The ad for Charles Atlas where a bully (inadvertently) kicks sand in the face of Mac and his gal. Allegedly this actually happened to the real Charles Atlas before he started doing dynamic tension. A side note: according to several sources, Atlas built his physique with conventional weightlifting, and then devised dynamic tension because he figured it would be easier to sell to young boys with plenty of Muscle Angst but without the resources to buy barbell sets or go to a gym regularly. The failure of dynamic tension to actually work wasn't a sales problem in the days before internet forums.
- Mixed with A-Cup Angst in an ad manga for Chasteberry E breast enlargement pills: the small-breasted person tries out all kinds of hoo-hah gimmicks to make her breasts grow, including drinking milk, using a suction device, and doing dumbbell exercise... The last one of course does nothing to increase her mammary mass but gives her muscled arms, which she regrets.
Anime and Manga
- Claymore has Undine, who always looks like an amazon warrior ready to rip your arms off if you so much as glance at her wrong. She is actually just as lithe as the rest of the Claymores, but she lost a friend long ago, and channels her Yoki into her muscles to keep up a strong appearance for the other Claymores.
- The comedic manga Short Cuts has a story in which a typical "kogal" gets trapped in a sumo wrestler costume and is forced into actual sumo competition. Eventually, she manages to get the zipper unstuck, only to find out all that exercise has made her unfashionably muscular. Not to worry though, a passing man still wants her... for the military!
- Biske of Hunter × Hunter explains that the reason that she stays in her Sleep-Mode Size is that her regular form is "too bulky".
- Casca from Berserk complains that the fancy, frilly gown she dressed up in for a ball looks weird because she's too muscular. Now Casca is toned, but the fact that every male character thought she looked irresistible proves her wrong.
- Variation in Pokémon Adventures. Ruby claims that he doesn't train his Pokemon for battles in fear that they will gain ugly muscles. Looks to be a case of Muscles Are Meaningless, as it turns out his Pokemon are in fact very powerful and well-trained.
- One guy in Franken Fran keeps getting picked on by bullies, so he goes to Fran for help. He ends up bulging with muscle... and still gets beaten up.
- Gender inverted in Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. Nozaki's angst is about having too much—as a Shoujo Genre mangaka, that means he can't use his own body as a model as his readers prefer bishonen.
- Shin from Eyeshield21 doubles his training every time he thinks he under performed due to being too weak. It's not remotely true since he is a Lightning Bruiser Bruce Lee Clone and his performance wasn't the issue (the other team brought the play where they know he would have trouble winning) but he still thinks it's not enough and his lack of training is the problem.
- (Female) Ichika Orimura in The Mirrorverse has a little bit of this, since her intense physical regime caused her body to grew rather muscular. Understandable, since every other Cadet Rep looks like a supermodel (or unbelievably petite). Either way, Dan doesn't give a damn, while her male counterpart flat out said it's a sign of her effort and should be appreciated.
Films — Animation
- Hiccup of How to Train Your Dragon is physically the weakest of all the characters, to his chagrin. It doesn't help that his father is practically a tank, and Hiccup believes that his lack of muscle is the reason behind his father's disappointment in him; in reality, as Gobber stated, it's more about "what's inside [Hiccup] that [Stoick] can't stand", which also doesn't help. Hiccup's strength lies in his smarts, but Vikings don't understand that as well as brute force. The show explores this further in the episode were Stoick has Hiccup drawn very muscular on a shield painting, in which Stoick doesn't catch on how this hurts his son's feelings and only worsens his already ingrained insecurities. And while Hiccup does remain leaner than most as he grows up, he does get stronger (i.e., being able punch the brawnier Snotlout so hard he lost a couple of teeth and fainted) and many other Vikings (including the Twins and Snotlout) still point out his scrawniness in an unflattering manner (which can be used either for laughs or drama).
Films — Live-Action
- In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. Frank-N-Furter created Rocky because he wanted a man with muscles. Frank insults Brad's lean build, and Brad's fiancée Janet replies that she doesn't like a man with "too many muscles" (Just one big one!). She somehow quickly changes her mind by the end of the song, just about a minute later, singing, "I'm a muscle fan."
- Steve Rogers, whose health problems and weak build keep him from joining the army and getting girls, before he becomes Captain America.
- The film adaption of Generation X replaces Husk with a girl whose power is a form of Super Strength where Muscles Are Meaningful that angsts over what's described as grotesquely overdeveloped musculature.
- Keladry, the protagonist of Protector of the Small, training to be a knight, is big and tall and develops muscle, as you might expect. There's a scene where someone takes her by the Standard Female Grab Area and she flexes her bicep so that it swells and forces his hand open. Joren of Stone Mountain tries to make her insecure about that, claiming she'd be pretty if she stopped working out, and she flatly ignores him. At times - worrying about love interests - she thinks they probably prefer small girls, but being a knight means a lot more to her than maybe "attracting" a man, and no one but Joren evidences disgust.
- The 2005 TLC documentary The Man Whose Arms Exploded looks at an extreme degree of male Muscle Angst leading to steroid abuse and (in the case of bodybuilder Gregg Valentino) injecting oil into the biceps. Can be seen here (warning: some Nausea Fuel and a fair bit of bad language).
- Drag Queen and Rupauls Drag Race finalist Courtney Act, aka Shane Janek, talks about feeling the worst of both worlds with this trope. As Shane, he feels too skinny compared to the Gym Bunnies of West Hollywood, but he worries that bulking up would hurt his image as Courtney, who's known for looking like a natural modelesque woman.
- Atalanta in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, portrayed by Cory Everson, got a little bit of this because of one guy's No Guy Wants an Amazon reaction, so she covers her muscles up. This doesn't last long, much to Amazon Chaser Salmoneus' delight.
- Peter Fox of Foxtrot sometimes stresses about not being able to gain any muscle due to his superhumanly high metabolism. One Sunday strip had him and his friend Steve cramming a huge work out session into one day to prepare for going to the pool the next day. Unfortunately, the next day they're barely able to move due to being so sore.
- Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Lune Zoldark complains that, regardless of her diet or exercise routine, everything she eats turns to muscle.
- The Sports Club Manager Arcana from Persona 3 has a case of this. She's tanned and toned, but other girls tell her that No Guy Wants an Amazon. A likely case of Truth in Television as the game takes place in Japan, and girls (currently) avoid tans and aim for that "fragile" kind of thin.
- Inverted by Guan Yinping in Dynasty Warriors 8; she thinks that she doesn't have enough muscles, despite the fact that she doesn't need them to hoist a weapon bigger than she is with one hand. Also, she's female when this type of angst is mostly Always Male.
- Dangan Ronpa:
- Fujisaki has serious issues with his lack of muscle because of other boys bullying him for his weak body. Not soon after the Killing School Life has started, he desires to improve himself and build some muscle to overcome his weakness. It's that determination that gets him killed by Oowada, whose inferiority complex, Survivor Guilt and stress from the Killing School Life causes the him to snap and kill Fujisaki in a moment of uncontrolled rage.
- Oogami is aware of her Brawn Hilda look and since she has a feminine side deep within her, she is sometimes insecure about her appearance clashing with her gender. In Free Time Events, hearing from Naegi that he views her as a girl really relieves her. (The only other character who does that is Oogami's best friend Asahina.)
- In IF, Enoshima teases her twin sister Ikusaba to be too muscular, although that is rather an Informed Deformity. But since it's Enoshima we are talking about, she may just trolling her.
- Saber in Fate/stay night thinks she's too muscular. Not that you can tell by looking at her. Some promotional artwork of her leads to Informed Deformity.
- Titanium Maiden from The Heroes Of Crash is very self-conscious about her hulking, amazonian body. It doesn't help that her teammate Cannon refers to her as "Chickzilla". See also the page quote.
- Jared of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things starts trying to work out after being the one scrawny guy in a temp office full of Testosterone Poisoning. Commander Badass, the head of said office, warns him that chasing a body image as a solution to your life problems is a quick path down the road of disappointment and eating disorders. Jared, being Jared, completely misses the point.
- They also parody the Charles Atlas ad mentioned above. Jared eventually gives up and sics his Gyarados, Mr. Fish, on the bully.
- Bomango: Gogo is an Amazonian Beauty (whose a bit Zig Zagged on the beauty part). She develops Muscle Angst in the 9-part short story, "Ego Generosity" because Andy told her she's not attractive as she thinks and she looks unfeminine. He only told her this because she thought it was a good idea to let Andy gawk at her as a birthday gift.
- The main character in Bruno the Bandit is shown to suffer from this, despite being a muscular adventurer, due to comparing himself to the unrealistic proportions of fashion model adventurers, who's musculature reaches ridiculous levels (think Rob Liefeld on his worst art day).
- Anvil in Grrl Power is an Amazonian Beauty. When she voices some anxiety about a publicity photo shoot, Sydney sarcastically asks if she's afraid of being "too physically perfect" — to which Anvil points out that a significant percentage of people find her height and build grotesque or repulsive rather than desirable or attractive.
- A Vocaloid fan video by Kagome-P had Gakupo depressed over his lack of muscle mass, and his story of emulating figures such as Alex Armstrong, Mantaro Muscle and an assortment of anonymous, heavily muscled figures in order to woo the girl of his dreams. This backfires at the end of the video, when he discovers that she's now into skinny guys and his struggle to get a toned body was for nothing.
- This is Team Four Star's interpretation of Tien in Dragon Ball Z Abridged, possibly coupled with Can't Catch Up.
Chiaotzu: But Tien, the doctor said if your shoulders get any bigger-
Tien: [darkly] That's why we don't see him anymore.
- In the Neopets Tale of Woe plot, Bruno is a skinny Gelert who wants to become muscular to impress his love interest, Lily. He is offered a potion by a mysterious stranger that supposedly will make his dream come true. He takes it, only to be mutated into a grotesque monster.
- The Simpsons: The episode where Marge goes into bodybuilding had her obsessed with gaining muscle, despite being very muscular even for a man, due to her run-in with a mugger at the beginning of the episode. The muscle gain becomes a way for her to get rid of her feeling of helplessnes, until it becomes a goal in itself.
- The first ever Cut Away Gag in Family Guy followed a comment about how a poor self-body-image has created lots of problems, cut away to... a skinny and weak Adolf Hitler in a gym, called Das Gym, struggling with a small set of barbells and glaring angrily at a musclebound Jewish man surrounded by beautiful women.
- A long running desire of Ren from Ren and Stimpy was to get pectoral implants. In one episode he finally does...using the fat from Stimpy's butt.
- An episode of Spongebob Square Pants had Spongebob ordering inflatable muscular arms after realizing how skinny he is. Too bad for him that they don't actually increase his strength.
- A very early episode of South Park features Cartman winning an essay contest and getting to be on TV. It's Played for Laughs when he sees a commercial advertising a weight gain supplement, and worries that he's too thin when the commercial asks the viewer if they're tired of being a 90-pound weakling (with Cartman estimating that he weighs about 90 pounds - in a third-grader's frame). He gets a supply of the supplement, and bulks up to Jabba the Hutt-like levels. He thinks he looks awesome, but anyone else who sees him just says "Goddamn, that's a big fat ass!"
- One episode of Beavis And Butthead has the duo trying to gain a protein shake in hopes that it'll make them more attractive to chicks. After failing to order the actual thing (since they don't have any money) the two go over to Stuart's house and make their own drink using random food from his kitchen. The drink is thoroughly disgusting, but doesn't actually make any difference. The two try exercising for awhile (by which we mean badly copying the protein shakes spokesmans crappy exersize program, then jogging about 50 feet), but quit because it's too hard. When they return home, they catch a news story that the spokesman they were trying to imitate has just died of a heart attack (not in the least bit surprising considering the mans psychotically energetic behavior).
- Happens to Daffy Duck in the Looney Tunes short Muscle Tussle, when he takes his girlfriend to the beach and she immediately falls for a musclebound hunk.
- In one episode of Kaeloo, under the effects of Truth Serum, Mr. Cat reveals that he wishes he had larger muscles.
- In the Johnny Bravo episode, "Jumbo Johnny", Johnny is lamenting over the fact that he's not as buff as he wants to be. He ends up getting conned into buying some bogus muscle ripper called "Uber Mass". It only makes him fat (and a giant) instead, mostly due to the fact that he chugged down what was supposed to last for six weeks in one night in an attempt to speed up the process. Thing is, Johnny was already pretty muscular to start with.
- Female bodybuilder Aleesha Young was teased for her large biceps as a child and spent years as a teen starving herself to get a more normal physique. Then she outgrew it...
- Ronda Rousey has gone on record saying she's not a fan of the way her body looks when she's in fighting shape (and thus at her most muscular), and feels unfeminine like that.