I hope every one has stayed safe the past few weeks. It has been flooding like crazy around these parts in Texas. Luckily, no one I know has been seriously affected but it has been pretty nuts to say the least.
Today I am going to discuss body image again, but focusing on a specific gender – men.
Most body image issues are perceived as “women’s problems” and eating disorders are seen as disorders that only affect women. This, however, is far from the truth. While, yes, these disorders affect women, according to the statistics, they do affect men, as well. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 4-10% of men in college were affected by an eating disorder, and men’s body image concerns have increased over the past three decades to 15-43% of men being dissatisfied with their bodies. Research also shows that of men that binge, 37.1% of them report feeling depressed, while only 12.6% of men who do not binge report feeling depressed (n.d.).
It makes me wonder about our society’s perceptions of “eating disorders”. There’s a whole different side to these issues. In a previous post, I discussed binge eating and starving our bodies to “fit the ideal”. But what about the other side of it? How about over exercisers and individuals who refuse to eat more than a certain number of calories a day? Is that healthy?
Where is the line between healthy and obsessed? I think that exercise and being aware of what foods you are putting in to your body is a good thing, but when does it cross that line? How do we find that balance?
To me, it seems, most men who experience body image issues go the opposite route of what is expected of a typical dissatisfied individual. The stereotype is that women binge, purge, or starve. What is the stereotype for men?
It’s socially acceptable for men to hit the gym 4 times a day, every day a week and drink protein shake after protein shake. In fact, I’d argue that is the “norm” society wants to push on men. Look at ads featuring men in them:
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the average (please note I said average) male looks like that. Society and media, once again, places an unrealistic expectation for what men’s bodies should look like. For women, it’s to be “stick thin and tall”; for men, muscular and lean. (And hairless! C’mon, people. Insert eye roll here.) I would imagine this pushes men to spend more hours at the gym, feeling guilty when they eat a slice of pizza, and probably staring at the mirror holding in their gut.
Wait. I do that…
Holy crap, ladies! MEN ARE JUST LIKE US!
I’m going to give you a minute to really let that shock sink in…
The thing is, stereotypical gender roles tell men that it’s “bad” to cry or express how they’re feeling. Why is this? Why do we tell men they can’t play with dolls, or tell them to “shake it off” but we think it’s perfectly acceptable to let women cry or express themselves verbally? It’s a double standard, ya’ll, and it’s not cool.
I’ve noticed that my clients that seem the most guarded and resistant in counseling sessions are typically male. Yes, I have females that are this way, too, but on average they are male. I’ve thought about this a lot. Part of it could be that they just aren’t ready to build that therapeutic relationship with me to work on their problems. Part of it could be they just don’t like me as a counselor. Another part of it could be that I work with adolescents and children and their parents are forcing them to come and they think counseling is stupid. But I think the biggest part is that men think they have to act “macho” all the time and not show any one what they really feel, like revealing their emotions takes away some of their masculinity or something.
Why did society put all this pressure on men to be “masculine”? What is wrong with a male having feminine qualities, or a female having masculine ones?
These gender roles put a lot of pressure on individuals to act a certain way to be accepted. I say let’s challenge those stereotypical roles and embrace males at every size and shape. Health is most important, but it’s also important to note that healthy has many different forms.
Let’s take my husband for example. (I’m sure he won’t mind me discussing his body on my blog…) He is tall. Six foot four inches, to be exact. He’s got big shoulders and naturally muscular arms, so he’s also a little wider than someone else may be at that height. He’s not Conan O’Brien – skinny and lanky. He’s tall and big, but not meaty. He sometimes shops in the “big and tall” section – these clothes fit his shoulders and arms but are too big on his belly. Jeans are hard for him to find, and he always has to roll up any long sleeve shirts he wears. His weight and height combo puts him in “overweight” range on a BMI scale. It doesn’t really make sense, because he eats relatively well and is generally pretty active. I definitely wouldn’t call him overweight. His health looks different than someone else’s health at his height looks. Society doesn’t have a standard that looks like my husband, or a lot of the men in my life! I would bet you could say the same thing about yourself or the men in your life.
Why is this?
It’s frustrating and it leads to depression, and anger, and social anxiety (summer is coming = bathing suits = anxiety, hello?!). It’s unnecessary.
Let’s change this! Body positivity for everybody.
Challenge your norms. Challenge how you see your body. Focus on the positives. When the negatives rise, don’t dwell on them. Find a way to accept what you find negative about yourself, or find a healthy way to change what you don’t like. Talk about it. Think about what words you use when you talk about your body around your children or your friends. Don’t put as much emphasis on the scale. Find what foods make you feel good and eat less of the ones that make you feel bad. Find an exercise that you enjoy so working out doesn’t feel like a chore. (For me, it’s yoga!)
Let’s start a discussion about body positivity. Leave me a comment about your journey with your body. Or maybe you disagree with something I wrote about in this post. Or maybe you think I used negative terms to describe bodies. I don’t know, but I want to engage in these talks and maybe – just maybe – things will start to change.
Happy OM’ing, and namaste.
(Ok, for a laugh: Check out this tumblr that posts pictures of real men posing next to underwear ads. It’s hilarious.)
National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Statistics on males and eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-males-and-eating-disorders