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Eating Disorders among Men - A Deadly New Trend Emerges

Eating Disorders among Men - A Deadly New Trend Emerges


Flip the pages of any high-profile men's fashion magazine these days and you may notice that, among male models, thin appears to be in. A recent article in the New York Times attributes this trend to a growing attitude influencing major fashion shows around the world: skinny guys welcome, muscular dudes need not apply. More and more, men resembling the traditional high-fashion male model - the kind who has devoted dozens of hours a week for years to perfecting a chiseled, muscular, exceptionally fit and toned physique - are being dropped from consideration for the toniest runways and fashion magazines. Instead, agents and producers are looking for smaller-framed gentlemen in the mold of, say, 145 pounds or even less and emblazoning the pages of magazines with depictions of the rail-thin, "perfect" male figure.

Over the past several years, the general public has become more aware of eating disorders and the media's role in perpetuating the myths that lead to these serious illnesses. Celebrities are starting to speak out against culture's tendency to revere models, athletes, actors, and others who are virtually devoid of body fat as the standard bearers of beauty; support groups, hotlines, and rehab facilities offer help to those who are caught in the throes of eating disorders; and some high-powered fashion organizations have put strict limitations on how thin their models are allowed to be. All of these are steps in the right direction; however, most of the awareness is promoted and geared toward one section of the population: women. The fact is that men have also historically struggled with eating disorders and are susceptible to the same tragic and possibly fatal consequences.

Rapid Ascent

Last year, researchers from Harvard conducted a study of eating disorders among a population of 3,000.  Twenty-five percent of those with anorexia nervosa and bulimia were men, and males made up 40 percent of binge-eaters. These statistics are much higher than was once believed, and these numbers may be just the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. Many men who suffer from eating disorders are not likely to seek help, or even to tell anyone at all. And eating disorders among men can often go undiagnosed by physicians because their symptoms may be ascribed to other conditions, such as depression.

Under Pressure

The fact that eating disorders are most commonly associated with women may fuel the fear of many men to ask for help. Some men feel that admitting to anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating will make them look weak; some even believe that they will be stigmatized a by society that continues to hold onto the age-old ideal of the tough, muscular Adonis figure. Actors, models, athletes, and dancers face the additional pressures to keep up appearances and keep their weight down. Add to all of this the typical stresses such as relationship and family issues and low self-esteem, and it becomes apparent why men are as susceptible to eating disorders as women.

Eating Disorders among Gay Men

The statistics are even more alarming among the male homosexual population. 20 percent of men known to have eating disorders are gay. Although society has made significant steps toward acceptance of homosexuality over the past several years, many straight men still fear that they will be assumed to be gay if they even admit to an eating disorder.

As society continues to be bombarded with images featuring the changing face and body of the ideal man, new patterns of behavior are likely to emerge. Although eating disorders among men are not uncommon, the likelihood of their becoming more common will surely increase if certain societal and psychological hurdles are not overcome. Awareness and the accessibility of confidential help need to have a marked and focused presence for both men and women who may have an eating disorder. Anorexia and bulimia are deadly disorders, and the rising number of people suffering from them is cause for alarm for both sexes.

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