Although 1/10 women in the United States suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime, many women, including high school girls, have eating disorder tendencies. As a high school student, it’s common to hear friends talk about the calories in their food or complain about how much weight they’re gained recently, even if it’s only a few pounds. Girls are raised in a culture that teaches them to be aware of how their bodies look, and therefore, watch what food they eat. Many women are concerned with losing weight, and some develop this into an obsession that can be diagnosed as an eating disorder.
However, these disorders are frequently overlooked in males. Despite the stereotype that eating disorders only occur in women, one-third of people struggling with an eating disorder are male. Furthermore, eating disorder behaviors such as binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting are almost as common among men as they are among women. Most people would find it surprising that 10 million males will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
While all know that women are taught to be conscious of their bodies, few realize that the same pressure applies to men. Feminists often cite dolls like Barbies and unnaturally skinny models as examples of promoting an unhealthy female body image, but what about the male standards? Absurdly muscular action figures and lean male models promote contradictory unhealthy male body images. While these influences can be just as harmful on males’ perceived self-image, this issue is hardly talked about. Mattel created an average-sized Barbie doll but did nothing to change Ken, and no one seemed to care.
There exists a cultural bias against men expressing their emotions, or in this case, expressing their struggle with an eating disorder. Men face the stigma of being perceived to be more feminine for seeking treatment, plus the additional possibility of being misdiagnosed with female-geared diagnostic tests. The misconceptions and obstacles that men face in order to receive help for eating disorders only adds to the number of men who give up trying, or worse, don’t try at all.
But today’s cultural values are not those of the future. We can encourage males to seek help when they need it and reduce the number of males suffering overall through increased awareness and education. It starts in the family: help boys understand that the male body types they see in the media are unrealistic, lagging behind girls during puberty is normal, and focusing on developing strong internal values is more important than succumbing to external pressures. With the right parental influence, boys are much more likely to develop into healthy men who are more confident with their bodies and have higher self-esteems.