Today I’m talking about men who are struggling with their eating disorders and body image issues but ladies you might find this one interesting too because an awareness of the total picture is so important in helping us all fight against the problem.
I would like to dedicate this piece to men because we men are highly underrepresented when it comes to eating disorders and issues of body image.
If we just look at the literature and resources available on helping eating disorders and the male image, then the gap is huge between the genders.
One problem is that we don’t have many male role models or figures to make us aware and this isn’t helped by the fact that we men can be guilty of being damn stubborn and egotistical when it comes to sensitive topics and being challenged if we are doing what we believe is best for ourselves.
In my experience, women are just more receptive to ideas on change around health and fitness, whereas men seem to want to do it alone. Now I celebrate gender differences and this strong, self-reliance is part of what has carried our species so far, but it also works against us, and I think eating and body images issues are an area we men could use a little support.
Eating and body disorders are typically seen as feminine in nature. Men traditionally have been less about grooming and prided ourselves more on being strong, rugged, provider type characters. But times have changed and men have made huge leaps into self-grooming. You might say that if the female act of applying make-up, having hair coloured, eye-lash extensions, and whatever, is in part an attempt to magnify qualities of youthfulness, feminine charm and whatever else we seem to find attractive, then the male act of going to the gym is our attempt to emulate the strong, protective, and providing figures we instinctively feel women will appreciate. That’s a generalisation but for a large percentage it holds validity.
Now if you’re like me then you too might think that a woman spending half an hour, an hour, or maybe more, in front of the mirror everyday is a heavy price to pay for a mask. Well I believe that men are falling for the same trap.
We are both genders trying to emulate something. An innate quality. Something that is only represented in part by the external but is fundamentally an internal state.
These are masks we are wearing and the gym and exercise culture for many, not all, but many, is enabling our disordered behaviour with regards to what we are demanding of our bodies. We are covering up our insecurities, and are convinced, that by applying more and more of our masculine version of make-up, which we call exercise and muscle, the more we’ll solve this internal struggle.
I believe for you ladies watching this that you are naturally more adept at vocalising your feelings. You talk to each other, exchanging insights and emotional content where as we men are often a little less sensitive in this aspect.
That doesn’t mean we are all stunted apes who need to aspire to a woman’s way off unloading but as we are known to have different methods of engaging with our inner workings and feelings we should use this topic as an opportunity to begin to question our dysfunctional behaviour around food and body image using a masculine framework.
The solutions available to men will therefore obviously be different in some aspects and are really only limited by our imagination as to how we can make this topic mainstream amongst men and by no means needs to be confined or expressed in tears and deep conversation.
We men are not ignoring our disordered behaviour on purpose. Ignorance by its very definition means we cannot see what’s right in front of our faces so the problem is that we often don’t think we have a problem which makes it so difficult to dialogue and broach this topic with other men.
We are in a time when we believe more and more that a flat stomach, six pack, big biceps, low body fat, and lean muscle, is what health is and what makes this so dangerous is that men have evolved as goal orientated creatures.
We create missions and then we complete them. Then we create new missions and complete them and so on. You only have to look at movies which guys typically enjoy to identify the themes we find entertaining and can relate to. We generally shy away from chick flicks and look towards masculine figures at the centre of our plots.
Typically there is this male hero. He comes up against great adversity and while at first he may not be capable, he undergoes rigors, improving himself, going on some kind of adventure, quest, and while there may be a hint of a girl in there or the adventure may be saving the girl, ultimately she is a side character and his mission comes first. He eventually defeats his foe or overcomes his obstacle and we grunt good job and feel more inspired to be our own hero and pursue our own mission.
LOSE WEIGHT AND GET LEAN AND RIPPED
It is the code of man. We all need our mission. Society as a whole is giving us a mission which is screaming LOSE WEIGHT AND GET LEAN AND RIPPED and we are unable to complete it. Of course not. It is not a realistic possibility for most men and so we look in the mirror and we don’t look like the cover of the fitness magazines, or like the Hollywood heart throbs. But we cannot stop.
It is coded into us and we become like one of those crazy toy monkey robots. You know the ones that are holding those symbols in their hands and that you wind up from the back and it just walks and walks until it has expired the twisting. We are like those monkeys and we are so tightly wound up that we just keep going and going but we are hitting a wall. A wall of frustration at not being able to achieve the ideal body and we keep walking into this wall of frustration and every time we hit it we just walk straight back into it.
Ladies you’ll recognise this goal orientated behaviour first hand. In relationships when we’re meant to be listening to you we keep trying to fix your problems rather than relating and hearing what you’re saying. Am I right? And how frustrating can it be to try to connect and not feel understood by your partner?
These behaviours make our goal driven mindsets seem like a flaw that we need to knock out of ourselves when in truth, they are for the most part a great strength that has informed our survival as the dominant species on this planet but just like relationships with women, it is being misdirected and we are using the best of ourselves against ourselves. We are using our gift of being pragmatic, rational thinkers, to latch onto facts and numbers like calories and macros and bodyfat levels and becoming obsessive with sculpting the ‘perfect’ body.
The culture of men right now is to associate a lean and muscular body (within individual preference) as a token for sex. It would be naive of me to say that having a certain physic wouldn’t have a bearing on your sexual market value because the world we live in says it will. To my experience and observations it’s a fact. The culture we live in, superficially at least, values bodies that have little body fat and whatever amount of muscle definition suits preference and so regardless of whether it’s healthy or not for you, if a man believes he will get more success with women, or from other men, based on his appearance, then just like the ruthless drive a man can apply to his career for example, it’s pretty damn hard to begin to talk about ideas of self-value and worth, separate of an external image.
Also, I’m not any type of authority on gay relationships. It’s an inevitability that men are more image driven than women and so I could imagine that for a gay man the pressure might even be more. I’m not sure? If anyone has any insight into this then please leave a comment and get involved because I’d love to hear your opinion. Do gay men feel more pressured to conform to a statuesque physic because guys are predominantly image focused?
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