Eating disorders are already a heavily stigmatised mental illness, but they can be even more so if you don’t fit the incredibly narrow perception that our society has of someone suffering with one.
Almost a quarter of those suffering with anorexia nervosa and bulimia identify as male and the amount of males suffering with binge eating disorder (BED) is almost equal to the amount of females. So why then, do we more often than not think of eating disorders as an exclusively feminine issue?
Aaron Flores RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Body Trust ® Provider) has suffered with disordered eating and body image struggles for most of his life.
“I was never formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, likely due to biases in the community related to my gender and body size, but I struggled with food for most of my life,” he said.
As someone who has also struggled with disordered eating and body image issues, I found solace in finding a like-minded community of women online who had also faced these issues. I was able to share my struggles with my friends without fear of being chastised.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for many men suffering with these same issues. “There are considerably less discussions, social media pages and books on the topic. It’s not that men don’t suffer from body image issues, it’s just that because of what we consider masculine, it’s taboo to discuss it openly,” Aaron said.
“We can’t assume that all men experience body shaming in the same way. It’s going to affect each of us differently. What I hope happens is that the folks who are doing this work remember, we need to make space for all the male identities and their experiences. We can’t boil it down to a simple ‘one solution’ narrative. That being said, what I think needs to happen, is we need to change the culture to make space for all men to feel comfortable being vulnerable in sharing their experience with this topic.”
While body shaming is beginning to be more widely called out, it is still prevalent in our society and quite often goes overlooked, especially in regards to men. It is currently pretty socially acceptable to use derogatory terms to describe a man’s body, and men are expected to take this is a ‘joke’. To feel upset or hurt by body shaming as a man is still thought of as anti masculine.
The phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ is one that may bring up the hackles on many men, but in truth it describes society’s attitude to men’s mental health perfectly. It is not an attack on individuals but an overall perception that society has about what a ‘masculine’ man is. Currently, he is one that doesn’t express hurt over body image and doesn’t speak about food related struggles.
Most of the men in my life have expressed some desire to have a ‘fit’ body – this isn’t a bad thing, but I think it is really important that we look at the underlying factors. Similarly to women, males are presented with essentially one type of good looking body that they should aspire to. It is tall, tanned and hairless with washboard abs. Any fat man who is represented is usually either undergoing a transformation to become the above ideal, or is portrayed as a joke, their fatness being the crux of it.
“As a cis-gendered male, I navigate this world with considerable body privilege. The female body is more highly scrutinised in our society, and simply put, a thin female body is valued more than a large one. Men, and those who identify as men, have more of a pass on this. We get much more freedom to have some variety to our body shape, but in the end the drive for a thin, muscular body is powerful and a negative influence on all of us,” said Aaron.
“Simply put, we are failing as a community in treating males, and those who identify as males, who struggle with eating disorders. We still assume this is a female issue and it’s not. When men struggling and can’t find residential treatment options, because most don’t take men, that’s a problem. When a man is able to find treatment, often he’s the only one there and might struggle to connect with other clients and staff. We, males and those who identify as males, need to see, hear and read stories of other men who have eating disorders and have been able to move past them and find some type of recovery. We need more stories.”
If you are a man struggling with these issues, please remember you are not alone. If you are able to speak out, please do, because the more men who feel brave enough to come forward and share their experiences with eating disorders and body image issues, the less stigma there is going to be, and that can only be a good thing.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there is help. Call The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 ED HOPE,or Kid’s Helpline on 1800 459 975.