Society puts a lot of pressure on us to look a certain way, dress a certain way and act in certain ways. Of course, it’s unrealistic to believe that everyone should conform to those ideals since our bodies and our minds are not created equal. But because media and societal influences are so prevalent, it’s inevitable that these pressures will get under our skin and become absorbed in our thought processes. Both men and women alike feel the urge to conform to what society would like us to look like, even though that’s not always the healthiest or wisest choice. Some people feel so pressured by society’s ideals that they can develop eating disorders.
The exact cause of eating disorders is not understood, and they may be caused by a variety of different factors, including existing mental illnesses and genetics as well as societal influence. Most of the time, when we think about eating disorders, we immediately think about teenage girls suffering from anorexia and bulimia in an attempt to fit in with their peer group. But in fact, an estimated one million men also suffer from eating disorders.
The reasons these men suffer from eating disorders are similar to reasons why females do: the need to fit in with a peer group, honing their bodies for certain types of sports that rely on proper weight, underlying mental illness or genetics.
Homosexual men are especially at risk for eating disorders, since there is a great emphasis on success and physical appearance in the gay community. Interestingly enough, heterosexual men also fear that by admitting their eating disorder to others, they will be perceived as homosexual, since these disorders are more commonly (and stereotypically) suffered by women and homosexual men.
Sports like wrestling, horseback riding and boxing rely on their competitors to maintain a desired weight in order for them to be successful at their sport. Because there is so much pressure to keep weight under control, men may develop anorexia or bulimia in order to keep winning matches and races, when ironically, the bodily weakness that develops during prolonged cases of eating disorders will only cause them to fail.
The media also sends messages to men: that they must be fit and muscular in order to attract the attention of the opposite sex. Many men with anorexia, whether they’re bisexual, homosexual or heterosexual, have a high degree of sexual anxiety, in that before they developed their disorder, they were less likely to have had sexual relations, or become involved in a sexual relationship.
A lot of these men delay treatment for their eating disorder, mainly because they fear discrimination and prejudice, since eating disorders are known as ‘women’s problems’. They don’t want to be seen in support groups that cater mostly to women. But what we can do to decrease the number of instances of eating disorders in men is to take care of our men. Be supportive and encouraging. Teach them how they can care for their bodies without resorting to starving themselves or binging and purging. There are healthy ways to maintain weight and be competitive in different types of sports.
It’s easy to overlook eating disorders as a ‘girl’ problem. The first real step to helping men who have eating disorders is to become informed — and not to brush off these disorders as something minor. There are varioussupport groups out there that give information and ways to get help.