Many people recognize that most illnesses do not discriminate due to gender. Sadly, often times eating disorders, including binge eating, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, get categorized as strictly a “female” problem.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), a predicted 10 million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. As more and more doctors and experts become open to the facts, more and more data has come forward, with some statistics stating there is one male with an eating disorder for every four women with one.
Eating disorders and their treatment, even their diagnosis and screening, often are skewed more toward women. The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (NAMED), as well as NEDA, said assessment and screening tests often underscore men, and this undoubtedly leads to a higher prevalence of untreated men with eating disorders, simply because people don’t know or look for the warning signs in males like they might in females.
In a hypersexualized culture, one obsessed with image and physical appearance, men are sexualized and objectified within society and media just as women are, and are pushed to aim for super sculpted abs or huge pecs.
Even in high school sports, some male athletes develop certain binge-eating habits to keep up with the rigorous exercise and a crazy schedule, and certain sports such as wrestling demand such a strict weight and “cutting” weight in an unhealthy manner is common.
Just as women have been pressured with Barbie dolls into achieving the unattainable “perfect” bodies, boys action figures have only gotten more muscular and even bigger.
I often wonder if these standards for boys and men have led to not only eating disorders, but steroid and performance-enhancing drug abuse and if the two are linked.
There is such a double standard for men and women when faced with how they can come forward and ask for help. I feel like men are afraid to come forward with problems such as eating disorders, as society can lead them to believe they are less of a man in doing so. I have seen people I know, some friends even, laugh at and trivialize male celebrities when they have come out with problems and have sought help.
Kid Cudi, the rapper, just came out and said he is taking a hiatus from music to seek help for depression, and Drake dissed him for it, as well as countless “fans” calling Cudi weak for seeking treatment over his musical career.
It is the way society deals with “invisible” illnesses like depression, or eating disorders that is not okay. Just because something isn’t as outwardly tangible doesn’t mean its effects on an individual aren’t real.
I feel like guys might get scared that their friends or even family won’t take them seriously if they say they are dealing with body image issues, and the societal norm of a male having to be strong, stoic and sculpted can often lead to a negative mindset and body image, with no safe outlets to go to, leading to negative habits.
Overall, I think as a society we need to be more accepting and aware that eating disorders affect more than just who we might expect them to. Be open, accepting and support those who come to you or are seeking help.
Meridith King can be contacted at Kking@kscequinox.com