By Michael Schramm, Columnist
Published February 5, 2014
Ten million people will suffer from an eating disorder in their life. 43 percent of college-aged students report having body image issues, and 33 percent of college students use unhealthy weight control behaviors.
Those are scary statistics, but here’s something even scarier: these statistics apply exclusively to men.
Now, some may argue I’m only presenting certain statistics to make male eating disorders appear more problematic — arguing that only 10 to 15 percent of anorexia and bulimia casualties are males. Since anorexia and bulimia are the two most acknowledged eating disorders, it appears that men actually represent a small minority of sufferers. But this statistic actually shrouds the truth.
The ideal male body image differs from the female because males want to gain weight. As stated by the National Eating Disorder Association, the ideal male body image is muscular. Just as girls are societally pushed to look skinnier, guys are societally pushed to look muscular. Therefore, men having low anorexia and bulimia percentages makes sense since minimizing caloric intake would only hinder a male from achieving a “perfect” muscular body. We see this when examining binge eating, a form of eating control that would aid in gaining muscle. This is something 40 percent of men suffer from, a disorder in which men and women suffer in similar percentages.
Binge eating isn’t the only eating disorder males suffer from. Many suffer from eating disorders not given a definition. The guy consuming unhealthy amounts of workout supplements has an eating disorder. The guy who eats a ton of protein-dominant foods yet — even though he intakes 3,500 calories — is terrified to eat a 150-calorie cookie has an eating disorder. The guy who goes to the gym so much that it influences his grades and social life has a serious body image issue, signaling an eating disorder.
Considering so many suffer, why is no one talking about this? The answer is rather intuitive. Our society tells guys to be tough, so guys think that seeking physical or psychological health for body image issues deflates their masculinity. But this is creating a huge issue; the guys suffering are too afraid to break social standards to get help.
We need to be talking about this.
After hearing these statistics, hopefully it’s easy to identify guys in your life that could have an eating disorder. Think about your friend whose entire life seems driven by gaining more muscle. Sure, you and all your friends joke about his abundance of supplements, overeating and obsession with the gym, but have you ever questioned whether he actually has a serious problem? That underneath the chiseled pecs lies a crushed heart and damaged self-esteem? Because, he could be suffering.
And this doesn’t account for the men that have body image issues but not eating disorders. 43 percent of men suffer. That’s almost one in two men. Think about your guy friends that everyone perceives as the “thin guy.” I’m sure many people mention how skinny he is, and I’m sure that he takes the jokes. But, underneath the laughter, he could hate his appearance. And think about the guys who are — for lack of better term — a little bigger. How many times have you brought their size up? How many guys do you know who are waging an emotionally charged, exclusively internal war against their body?
And this low self-esteem isn’t totally self-induced. Take a look at any magazine cover and you’ll undoubtedly see a picture of Ryan Gosling, Zac Efron or Channing Tatum. They’re definitely attractive, but their body types are simply unattainable for guys without naturally muscular builds. There’s nothing wrong with emphasizing their attractiveness, but we shouldn’t only emphasize the attractiveness of one body type. We should glorify every body type. Just like there’s a push to portray other women’s body types, there needs to be a push for other male body types.
And while we’re on the topic of women’s body issues, the silence over male body issues could definitely be contributing to women’s. From my experience, the guys holding themselves to unrealistic expectations pressure girls to fit society’s unrealistic beauty definition. Why would they do otherwise? If they’re pouring hours into the gym and consuming 4,000 calories to look their best, they’re gonna expect girls to look their best. I’m not condoning their actions, nor am I claiming this is the case with every judgmental guy, but in treating the males suffering from body image issues, we would make serious strides in helping women.
Now, I don’t think that men wanting to be muscular is necessarily bad — eating healthy and exercising regularly is good for you. And not all men that work out and eat protein-dense diets have eating disorders and body image issues. However, a man’s desire to change his body needs to be self-driven. It should be a personal goal that he wants to achieve, not a push to fit societal norms. He should love seeing progress and self-improvement, not feel shame over feeling distant from his goals. This issue is huge — for both men and women. I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts, blog posts and articles about improving women’s body image, and that’s great, but we need to change the movement from women-exclusive to everyone. Body image issues and eating disorders are a societal problem, and they won’t improve until we help everyone suffering.
Michael Schramm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.