Men and Eating Disorders
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states, “Statistically, teenage girls and young women are more likely to have eating disorders, but unlike men, they are more likely to seek and receive help.” A lot of young men, according to Dr. Donald Erwin Ph.D., say to him, “I can’t tell anybody I’m anorexic. That’s weird. They’re going to think I’m gay.” Dr. Erwin has had a 45 year old male physician with anorexia and a 71 year old male Vietnam veteran with bulimia. Both men feel like they cannot tell anyone and are afraid to tell anyone because they think people will think they are making it up or are crazy.
Why are men so terrified to come forward about having an eating disorder? Why is it “weird” for a man to have anorexia?
Because society expects men to live up to its standard of masculinity which includes being unfailingly stable, strong, insensitive and unaffected by emotions. According to Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood, “Men are not supposed to be emotionally vulnerable in our present culture, yet they encounter pressures on a daily basis to be more muscular and meet the current male body shape ideals,” (Strother, 353).
If the pressure to meet society’s expectations in regards to physical appearance impacts women as well as men, how can we expect men to remain unfazed by these images? We cannot. Nor can we tell men that they are immune to eating disorders because having a mental illness conflicts with the set of predetermined standards for them they are supposed to conform to.
For men, coming out about an eating disorder and attempting to get support for it entails discrimination because their illness disallows them from being “masculine.” Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood argues that, “Encouragement of a culture which allows for male vulnerability” (Strother, 353) is essential in developing a comfortable environment where men are encouraged to want to seek help for their eating disorder.
The same article also stresses that awareness is crucial is promoting such an environment (Strother, 353). About eating disorder in general, Dr. Erwin states, “I think it is important to increase awareness, but not only awareness but understanding exactly what eating disorders are.”
An understanding of exactly what eating disorders are helps develop an understanding of why the unrealistic and unattainable images of women and men’s bodies is toxic because it has a negative impact on body image and self-esteem.