He was 12 and his social circle was made up primarily of girls. It always had been. Sports weren’t of interest, and neither was the usual competitive atmosphere of boyhood. Frankly, William was a boy who’d rather draw, or ride his bike, or bake with his mom. When his girl-friends began the fat-talk, he thought it was ridiculous, but in truth, he began to silently take it all in. He started to look at himself and wonder if maybe he, too, was fat. William, being on the outskirts of male culture, found himself being seduced by the culture of thinness. While his male friends (yes, he had those too) began bulking up from sports and the like, he began to get thinner and thinner. All of a sudden, he found himself controlled by the demon we all know as ED.
Jonas was 14, a football hero in the making, but not nearly as “built” as some of his pals. Determined to get the much sought after V shape idealized by fitness magazines and late-night televisions ads, he started an exercise regimen which soon became obsessive and excessive. It wasn’t an issue of not being thin enough for Jonas. Instead, the issue was being fit enough. Before he knew it, his focus was entirely spent on attaining this idealized body type–one that didn’t quite fit into his genes: Jonas was a short, stocky kid with short, stocky parents. Still, ED wormed its way into Jonas’ life as well, albeit in a different form.
In Brave Girl Eating, Harriet Brown talks about the eating disorder as a demon. She describes the personality change that occurs when the Eating Disorder (ED) is speaking with its loud ferocity. The provocative noise is terrifying in the mind of the one suffering, but sadly, it’s often drowned out by the disease itself. In truth, ED nullifies ones real sense of self and replaces it with an unrealistic desire for perfection and control. One thing that shows up repeatedly with an eating disorder is this desire for perfection, which shows up in school as good grades, in sports as high-scorers, in Girl Scouts as top sellers. Eating disorders are often about gaining control when something in one’s life feels definitively out of control.
We are used to talking about girls when we talk about eating disorders, as though we assume boys are unaffected. But they are, and those numbers are increasing. Unfortunately, eating disorders can carry the stigma of being something women suffer from–This invites a higher probability of men and boys not asking for help. Recently, MSNBC highlighted three young men whose lives had been heavily impacted by eating disorders. One of the young men lost his life after an 8-year battle with anorexia. He just wanted a six-pack.
More than a million boys and men battle an eating disorder every day and “approximately 10% of eating disordered individuals coming to the attention of mental health professionals are male.” (National Eating Disorder Association). The culture of “thin” is not only negatively impacting girls and women, but it’s begun to surreptitiously spin its nasty web in male culture. Advertizing aimed at women and girls suggests dieting and weight loss while ads geared toward men encourage fitness, weight-lifting, and muscle toning, so it makes sense that the female population is starving themselves or fat-talking their way out of life. But men and boys are suffering too, and they need a safe place to ask for help. Eating disorders are frightening, and not just for those watching the demise of someone they love. Being in it and listening to that voice of doom is terrifying. Getting help shouldn’t be another hurdle to climb.
For more information on Eating Disorders:
Fact Sheet (NEDA) What’s Going On With Me?