Bodybuilder Bullied For ‘Small Man Syndrome’ Felt Tiny Even Though He Was ‘Big As A House’
A bodybuilder who suffered from so-called ‘small man syndrome’ has opened up about living with body dysmorphia.
Despite being a successful bodybuilder and personal trainer, Ray Wetterlund III has struggled with his image after years of being bullied by bigger guys throughout his youth.
The 36-year-old said he was picked on because he was ‘underdeveloped’ and smaller in stature, which prompted him to devote ‘years to growing as much as [he] could’.
Ray’s dedication to the gym eventually led to him competing in high-profile competitive physique competitions and forging a lucrative career as elite personal trainer in his hometown of San Diego. But, his journey came with a great deal of pain along the way.
‘It was intimidating playing football in my senior year, not being nearly as strong as my teammates,’ he said. ‘I was an underdeveloped linebacker. That’s what drove me to build as much size as I could, to never feel small again.
‘Looking back, now I’m stronger than everyone who was on my team – because this has become a lifestyle for me.’
Ray even cites having ‘small man syndrome’, which he says really took hold when he left high school.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention confirmed small man syndrome actually exists after its study found men who feel insecure about their masculinity may be more likely to resort to violence.
Guys with small man syndrome are either full of themselves, or have a bad attitude, or try to bully people etc.
They’re compensating for what they lack – it’s a reaction, dealing with their own insecurities.
That’s when my obsession for bodybuilding really took off.
However, getting a ripped physique wasn’t enough for Ray – who is in fact 6ft tall – as the real battle turned out to be body dysmorphia.
The bodybuilder recalled:
I would wear two undershirts or find clothes that would fit me a certain way to showcase how big I was.
I felt small even when I was as big as a house. One of my biggest obstacles was comparing myself to others and always wanting more.
According to Ray, his escape initially came in the shape of bodybuilding and, especially, men’s physique competitions.
‘I think it’s just a phase I grew out of. Part of which my mind and body transformed once I started competing in men’s physique. My focus from being as big as a house shifted to being lean and mean,’ he said.
‘The hardest thing I battled during competing was – and is – comparing myself to others. The most important thing I learned was to just let go and focus on myself. Always run your own race.’
However, the competitive bodybuilding circuit came with its own mental health challenges, Ray explained:
One of the biggest issues I had was comparing myself to other ‘unnatural’ competitors.
I train 10 times harder, kill it in the gym with an uncanny work ethics – so why don’t I look like that? Why doesn’t my body to respond a certain way?
For anyone who has competed, it can greatly affect you mentally.
While people might think the competition would be the hardest aspect, Ray explained it’s actually the aftermath. He said bodybuilders get into the mindset that they want to be ‘shredded’ all year round, but he says this is completely unrealistic. The 36-year-old hopes his story of bodybuilding inspires others to be careful entering a world where body dysmorphia is an occupational hazard.
‘It all started with me training a fellow competitor and friend,’ he remembered. ‘The push and encouragement from him and many others got me to commit to my very first bodybuilding show. I didn’t know how much really went into ‘posing’.
‘It didn’t go well – but I came back and competed in my second show just six weeks later. I ended up taking second place, qualifying for nationals – but decided to step away from the sport.’
Ray said he quit because competitive bodybuilding creates an impossible standard to maintain – which in itself is problematic for mental health.
Once you reach that level, your new norm is so much higher than what’s realistic to the general population. Once you get your body in peak condition, your new normal, or what you think is acceptable, is by definition unrealistic.
It’s very difficult to stay ‘shredded’ [all] year round, so lots of competitors rebound post-show and blow up.
Mentally I’ve seen the sport affect so many post show or even those transitioning from post show to an off-season diet.
Ray still tries to stay strict with his body for himself, despite no longer competing.
‘Typically one cheat meal per week but [not] if I’m dieting really hard,’ he explained. ‘Intuitively I might throw a clean sushi meal in the mix midweek to spike the metabolism. When I’m prepping for a photoshoots the carbs get down really low.’
It’s hoped Ray’s story will shed some light on the lesser-known, darker side to bodybuilding.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.