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Muscle Angst

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"I think huge muscles
Are fine on
men, but on me
They're kinda freaky."
— Titanium Maiden from The Heroes of Crash expressing the feminine version of this trope in haiku form

A lot of body-image issues are related to/centered around femininity. Thus, we have tropes such as A-Cup Angst, D-Cup Distress, Hollywood Homely/Pudgy/Thin, Weight Woe, Height Angst, 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:

Might come into play during an Outclassed at the Gym scene. Subtrope of Appearance Angst.


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  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shin from Eyeshield21 doubles his training every time he thinks he underperformed 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.
  • Amazonian Beauty Maki Oze from Fire Force is insecure about her muscular build, becoming jealous of her teammates' "flexible and girly bodies" and getting distraught when she mistakenly hears someone call her a "gorilla". But that being said, when said teammates actually compliments her about it, she still responded positively to it.
  • 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.
  • Biske of Hunter × Hunter explains that the reason that she stays in her Sleep-Mode Size is that her regular form is "too bulky".
  • The Valkyrie Þrúðr/Thrud in Record of Ragnarok is a muscular giant of a woman who smashes through a doorway in her first appearance (as one would expect of a daughter of Thor), before accusing Raiden of seeing her as a freak. When he embraces her and says that he's fond of big girls, she briefly looks as if she's about to cry tears of joy.
  • 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 Bishōnen.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • I Think Our Son Is Gay: In one scene, 15-year-old Hiroki compares his own physique unfavorably to the muscular men he finds attractive, so Tomoko gives him a pair of dumbells in case he'd like to take up training. A Call-Back twenty chapters later shows that he did, with appreciable results.
  • Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!: Kiri Uzaki develops a complex about this (adding to the one he already has about being short of stature) when he hears that Ami likes men with six-packs.
  • Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: Flashbacks show that Maine used to be really scrawny, lightly-built, and physically weak, with a strong implication that his eventually fatal addiction to cybernetically enhancing himself in the present day originated out of insecurity over his Geek Physiques.

    Fan Works 
  • (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.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines features examples of both versions:
    • In the Whitney Interlude sidestory, the title character spots a Johto Values Alliance ad. The billboard shows a muscular and lonely woman contrasted with a more conventionally attractive woman surrounded by male admirers.
    • In Chapter 36 of the main story, Ash and co. are enjoying a beach day at the Seafoam Islands and meets up with a boy named Midori (again) who is an admirer of Ash after seeing his battles on TV. Midori sees that Ash has put up quite a bit of muscle and feels a bit self-conscious about his own physique. Ash, however, assures him that if his own female companions don't mind about it, he shouldn't worry too much.
  • In Heroic Myth, Bell laments that he's not as tall, muscular, and manly as the likes of Archer, Gilgamesh, Sigurd, or even Welf. He's mortified when Ais briefly mistakes him for a girl after Jack calls him "Mommy". That said, he's actually quite toned for a 14-year-old, and he's young compared to his teammates who have gone through puberty.
  • An interesting variant in the Vocaloid ask blog Ask Kagamine LenAccording to the mod, Len (who appears to be older than usual here) is a male version of the "too much muscle" variant. He also downplays the trope in two key ways; first off, he's not overly muscled, just fit and is thin enough that he can hide it just by wearing a shirt. Second, he's not so much angsty about his physique as he is embarrassed by it and doesn't like showing it off, to the point of wearing a hoodie to the beach on several occasions.
  • Happens in JoJo's Alien Adventure. While Ben isn't unhealthily skinny, he's an absolute twig compared to Jotaro and the rest of his companions with his average physique. He's especially jealous that because of their musculature, they can easily gain girl's adoration whereas he only became a Chick Magnet as a result of becoming a public superhero. It is downplayed, though, as Ben recognizes that Ben 10000 had a similar physique, and simply tries to accelerate the process.

    Films — Animation 
  • Toy Story 3 has a small scene like this. After the toys arrive at Sunnyside in the butterfly room, Twitch helps Mrs. Potato Head back up and she is impressed by his biceps and asks if she can feel them. Mr. Potato Head is jealous and tries to flex to show his muscle, but his arm only limps down and gets skinny, much to his disappointment.
  • 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 where 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 to 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).
  • Meet the Robinsons has an unusual example with Carl. He's a robot but at the end, it's all but stated that he's not very happy with being built with skinny arms and legs, and before sending his creator back to the past, he gives some suggestions that he builds him more muscular-looking.
  • The LEGO Batman Movie plays this for laughs in a very subversive way. Batman learns he's unable to sneak into the Fortress of Solitude and steal Superman's Phantom Zone Projector because he's too buff to sneak past the security system (and keep in mind, this is a LEGO minifigure version of him we're talking about, so he's the same size as most everyone else). Batman merely curses his beautiful body, retorting that it's his cross to bear when 'Puter compliments him for his physique nonetheless.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Lone Huntress: Protagonist Lisa sums it up when she ruefully remarks, "I became a monster in order to hunt monsters." Part of her character growth comes from her gradual acceptance that the motivation for all the stares are less No Guy Wants an Amazon and more Amazon Chaser.
  • The Locked Tomb: Gideon the Ninth: Gender-inverted with Jeannemary, who's very taken with Gideon's biceps, wants to bulk up more herself, and has made respectable progress on that front for a 14-year-old. However, Gender Is No Object in the setting and Jeannemary is the "sword" half of a Sword and Sorcerer duo.
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The male version is Inverted with Magnus. After becoming one of the Einherjar, he takes a shower and notices that he's gone from a scrawny teenager to having a lean but muscular physique. Since he Just Wants To Be Normal again, this annoys him so much that he uses his newfound strength to punch a hole in the wall.
  • Protector of the Small: Keladry, training to be a knight, is big and tall and develops muscle. 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.
  • Split Infinity by Piers Anthony: A man named Hulk is a formidable opponent to Stile in athletic competition. True to his name (that was allegedly inspired by some ancient comic), Hulk is a towering, muscular man. He does not dislike his impressive physique, but he has a problem with the way it leads people to make assumptions about his character: he is tired of others thinking he is Dumb Muscle instead of the thoughtful, sensitive, Genius Bruiser he aspires to be. This is the reason he challenges Stile to a footrace, an event that would seem to favor the smaller and lighter runner. Though Hulk is naturally slower than Stile, he almost manages to win anyway through cunning strategy and finding a shortcut. After he loses, he admits he hoped to show everyone how wrong they were. Stile, who has come to deeply respect him, assures Hulk he does not need to prove anything.

    Live-Action TV 

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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 workout 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mentioned in Pathfinder fluff as a source of self-image issues for half-orcs. Half-orc boys raised among orcs feel like ninety-pound weaklings and half-orc girls raised among humans feel like Brawn Hildas.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
    • Chihiro 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 Mondo Oowada, whose inferiority complex, Survivor Guilt and stress from the Killing School Life causes him to snap and kill Chihiro in a moment of uncontrolled rage.
    • Sakura 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 Makoto Naegi that he views her as a girl really relieves her. (The only other character who does that is Sakura's best friend Aoi Asahina.)
    • In IF, Junko Enoshima teases her twin sister Mukuro Ikusaba to be too muscular, although that is rather an Informed Deformity. But since Junko has been known to hurt and belittle Mukuro, especially in Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School, she may just be trolling her.

    Web Comics 
  • 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, whose musculature reaches ridiculous levels (think Rob Liefeld on his worst art day).
  • In El Goonish Shive, Tedd seems to view himself as scrawny compared to most men and has low self-esteem because of it.
  • 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. Sydney, on her part, is prone to expressing concern about how she (being short, skinny, and flat-chested) compares to all her tall, muscular, and stacked compatriots and points out that at least Anvil has never had to worry about being mistaken for a teenage boy.
  • 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.
  • Mob Psycho 100: Shigeo is pretty insecure about being scrawny, anemic, and sickly, especially since his childhood crush seems more interested in athletic guys. Thus, he joins the Body Improvement Club in hopes of getting ripped and impressing her.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • Amane Kanata of hololive is very proud about having a grip strength of 50kg. When she was hospitalized due to an accident in October 2020, she found that her grip strength had decayed to 40kg. After mulling it over and talking to Towa about it, she decided to train herself back up to 50kg because it didn't feel right otherwise.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 a while (by which we mean badly copying the protein shakes spokesman's crappy exercise 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 man's psychotically energetic behavior).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In one episode of Kaeloo, under the effects of Truth Serum, Mr. Cat reveals that he wishes he had larger muscles.
  • 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 Ok Ko Lets Be Heroes, Mr. Gar used to angst over his big muscles while he was in P.O.I.N.T. because he thought his crush didn't like him because of it.
  • A long-running desire of Ren from Ren & Stimpy was to get pectoral implants. In one episode he finally does... using the fat from Stimpy's butt.
  • The Simpsons: Happens in the "Strong Arms Of The Ma" 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 helplessness until it becomes a goal in itself.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • The Batman Batgirl develops a case of "not enough muscle" in the episode "Brawn" when she is easily taken down by Joker, who is using Bane's Venom to overpower the Batman. She even starts lifting weights in an attempt to get bigger. She eventually loses this insecurity when her small stature allowed her to disconnect the Venom supply when Batman couldn't, because Joker couldn't reach her to pull her off his back like he did to Batman when he tried.
  • Dave the Barbarian: Princess Candy feels insecure about her lack of muscles when her crush fawns over an Amazonian Beauty. So Candy gets help from Uncle Oswidge in the form of magic broccoli. She keeps eating more and more of the broccoli, getting bigger, uglier, and dumber until she's basically Queen Kong.


Video Example(s):


Maki's Insecurity

Despite being an Amazonian Beauty Maki is insecure about being too muscular, even when the camera itself ogles her. To the point, she gets very mad when people insult her and mishear them as trash-talking her appearance. She gets especially anxious when compared to girly girls like Iris and Hibana, but gets some confidence when Hibana compliments her muscular body.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ObliviouslyBeautiful

Media sources: