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October 2017
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Men and eating disorders: Why pay attention to it?

Her name was Isabelle Caro, she was a model. Died at the age of 28 in November 2010. The cause of death? Anorexia.

Before her death she was raising awareness for the illness by letting her body be photographed. The campaign featured her photos with the text “No – Anorexia” written on them. The message was clear. Just like her aim:

“I decided to do it to warn girls about the danger of diets and of fashion commandments.”

However, where are the boys in all of this? Are there no male models who suffer from Anorexia? Do boys not get insecure about their bodies due to the beauty standards emphasized in the media?

Wrong! A recent study from Britain’s NHS shows that eating disorders among men is on the rise. According to them there is a 66% increase of hospital admissions for male eating disorders over the last decade. Furthermore, males also get insecure about their body, which is emphasized by a new documentary produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom . Yet, why has Anorexia been stigmatized as  a ‘female illness’?

Two male models were interviewed by The Telegraph. According to the models men are less likely to talk about their problems, especially when it comes to illnesses, because they might be considered as weaknesses.

“I’ve got friends in modelling who have been bulimic and

that’s something you don’t normally associate with men.”

Similarly, Dr. Glasofer – a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons – states that due to eating disorders being considered female problems, men suffering from such diseases may be even more reluctant to speak up about it. They may be afraid of being associated with an illness that in the general public’s eyes is something only experienced by certain women.

Another fact, which highlights why the general public should be better informed about eating disorders among men, is that treatment methods are often specifically aimed at women, says Dr. Glasofer. This makes it even harder for the men suffering from eating disorders to overcome their illness. More awareness for Anorexia and Bulimia among men could bring the topic up for discussion, hence more men might open up about their personal experiences. More research could then be conducted, which could lead to better treatment methods for men with eating disorders. This is also confirmed by Glasofer:

“If we can accept that (1) men can have anorexia nervosa (…) then identification and treatment of men with this condition can improve.”

The problem, on the other hand, lies in the right approach to getting more awareness for men suffering from eating disorders.  Dr. Ted Weltzin argues that diseases such as Anorexia and Bulimia should not be addressed by using a specific gender. On the contrary, the whole gender aspect should be left out. Thus, we should stop associating eating disorders only with women, and instead look at such illnesses from a gender neutral perspective. However, this is only possible when there is social acknowledgement for the fact that men also suffer from eating disorders. Right now, this is still not the case says Weltzin.

“[We] hold it up as an oddity, as opposed to typically a young adolescent, young adult or maybe a middle-aged man, who’s really struggling with their relationship with food, has gotten into, for whatever risk factors, really dangerous areas in terms of their eating, their weight, their nutritional status,”

Recently  there have been some developments in France, taking form in a legislation that is meant to erase Anorexia  from the fashion industry. Supposedly a legislation banning too skinny models from the industry was approved back in April this year.  This matter has received a lot of attention and is featured in multiple news outlets. Still, in most of the articles the topic is discussed while referring to female models, the others don’t mention the affiliation to a specific gender.

Furthermore, the pictures in the articles are all of female models too. This indicates that the gender stereotypes surrounding eating disorders have not yet disappeared, as male models are still not being taken into consideration.

It is necessary to see whether these new adjustments actually have an effect on the idealization of being stick thin, as emphasized by the fashion industry. So, now we should closely watch future events in which models are featured. One major upcoming event on which we can confirm whether the fashion industry has indeed abolished their ridiculous ‘promotion’ of  eating disorders is the New York Fashion Week, held in February 2016. It is now upon the general public to scrutinize designer brands and model agencies during this event  in order to help prevent future female as well as male models developing eating disorders due to their line of work.

Hopefully, together, we will be able to counter the absurd ‘beauty’ standards that is imposed on models by the fashion industry. This could then be marked as one more win in the fight against eating disorders resulting in female as well as male models not being encouraged to go through unnecessary suffering anymore.

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