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Food For Thought December 2, 2005

Posted by Winter in body politics, food.
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By Siberian Falls  

I have had an interesting week. Interesting in a good way, rather than in the Chinese curse sense, I should point out.

One of the highlights of my week was being able to attend an eating disorders clinic in Swansea. I rotate around a great many clinics in my training but the psychiatry clinics consistently fascinate me the most. I anticipated that during this clinic I would see people with severe anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. What I did not realise was that 40% of these people would be male.

There are as many theories about what causes eating disorders as there are people under the sun, but what is generally accepted is that these are predominantly disorders of women. Now it seems that although the rates of eating disorders in women has stabilised, the rates among young man are rising significantly. How are we changing as a society to create this trend?

As feminists we look critically over the depiction of women in the media and we analyse as best we can the causes of insecurity and low self esteem which seem endemic in young women today. But who examines the media pressure on young men, the media that depicts them frequently as either dumb, foolish and hopeless or impossibly macho. Could it be that the media is now turning on its original creator? Women have understood for a long time the negative effects of pushing unrealistic ideals onto people. There have been a lot of body image campaigns over the years addressing this very issue. I believe that men could learn a lot from feminism.

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Comments»

1. Naiades - December 3, 2005

I think we’ve talked about this before, I really think that boys are being more and more affected by media expectation to be thin and beautiful. I think that pressure uis beginning to have real effects on young mens self image and self esteem.

As for sexist advertising that portrays all men as bruitish thugs, I dispare, men generally don’t seem interested in actually complaining themselves, and some of them seem to think they are just immune to advertising. Which i doubt is the case.

rx

2. Winter - December 3, 2005

I’ve known 3 anorexic men within my friendship circle over the years and they were all very sick indeed. One nearly died. I presumed this was an unsually high proportion, but perhaps the situation is much worse than I imagined. I’ve known a lot more women with eating disorders of some kind (I think it’s almost a norm for women now) but none quite as ill as the men.

Either men have been hiding their eating disorders pretty well until now, or something is changing.

3. Haplo - December 4, 2005

Well, i think this partly ruins my theory of media unimportance. I still maintain that media doesn’t make non-sexist men sexist (as winter woods said first. serious! she did!) but if eating disorders are as pervasive among men as the original poster says, nothing else makes sense than the images you find in the media. (One quibble – its not really “thin and beautiful” for men, its probably “cut and beautiful.” – 6 pack, rubbled shoulders and arms, a la Brad Pitt.)

Naiades might be referring to me regarding immunity. While I like to think that ads like the one from the previous thread don’t make me any more sexist than I already am (interpret however you wish, ha ha) I seriously doubt that I’m immune to images of male body representation. I do put effort towards trying (not always sucessfully) to get my body to be a certain way, in the earnest if naive hope that it will be more attractive to the opposite sex.

That said, there seems to be another chicken and egg dilemma – did the media decide what the “ideal” for men and women is, or did men and women decide it, and their preference is merely expressed in television and magazines?

4. Siberian Fall - December 4, 2005

I should have pointed out that this clinic had an unsually high proportion as Winter suggests. I’m not saying that the frequency in men is anywhere near as high as in women, only that it is demonstrably increasing. It could be that we are just better at diagnosing it now. But my feeling is that it is genuinely increasing.

These men were really sick, and had the same obsession about calories and fat, and the same body disturbance problems (looking in the mirror and believing they are overweight even when emaciated) as the women. Is there social pressure for men to be thin? I would have thought the opposite would be true, with most men wanted to achieve the perfect ‘six pack’ or whatever we girls are supposed to be attracted to.

5. Naiades - December 5, 2005

Hi haplo

I’ve answered you on the tread below. so I won’t go into that again here.

I think that there is an increasing pressure on boys to look thin or cut. when boys are able to develop this kind of muscular figure it generally means dropping a portion of their body fat and the many body building magazines i have seen seem to be geered up to promoting that lean type of look. I think it’s quite sad actually, i’d always hoped that people would become less worried about looks and women would feel under less preassure. Instead it seems to be going the other way with men and women feeling more under pressure to ‘conform.’

rx

6. Winter - December 5, 2005

I don’t believe it’s the media alone. I don’t know much about it really, but I reckon it’s got to be media pressure combined with other factors in someone’s life to trigger an eating disorder.

7. Naiades - December 5, 2005

I agree, i’ve never been in the one simple cause for everything camp. I’m sure that boys who have eating disorders may well have many other factors that contribute to this, but I don’t think that the media coverage can help any.

8. Maria - December 11, 2005

As someone who has struggled with eating disorders throughout her life, I don’t think it has to do with media pressure. I think each eating disorder very personal, individual roots (maybe even biological).

Media and “society”, can take what would have otherwise been a depression, OCD, or some other ailment that would make you equally unhappy, and turn it into an eating disorder because it is somehow more accpetable – as in the case of some anorexics. But bulimia and binge eating are not socially acceptable, they don’t really result in low weight (after I stopped purging, I actually lost weight), and blaming “the media” is a nice way of letting parents and the patients themselves off the hook.

Anorexia, bulimia, compulsively counting calories, are not ways of weight control – they are ways in which individuals isolate themselves emotionally (a great excuse not to go out: I binged today so I weigh a thousand pounds more and none of my clothes will fit). Other people obsess about other things, and it is equally paralyzing to them. I honestly think that society can affect the way in which these feelings are expressed, but blaming the media for the whole thing and making this a “social” disease will probably not change the way these people suffer – it may make it less obvious.

9. Winter - December 15, 2005

I honestly think that society can affect the way in which these feelings are expressed, but blaming the media for the whole thing and making this a “social” disease will probably not change the way these people suffer – it may make it less obvious .

I think that’s a very good point. I’ve had eating disorders too, but I can’t say whether the media had a big impact. I think it did influence the way I regarded my body as a teenager and may have been part of the trigger – creating an unhealthy attitude to women’s bodies and making anorexic bodies fashionable. On the other hand, eating disorders do run in my family and I believe there may be a genetic susecptability. I will blog more about this at another point.

10. Tayari - December 21, 2005

I was just wondering about the race/class make up of the people in the clinic.

11. Winter - December 21, 2005

I’ll ask the author to let you know.

12. Anonymous - December 26, 2005

There was a recent article in newsweek that suggested that eating disorders might be linked to excess seritonin (sp?) in the brain – making them more likely to be distributed 50/50 men/women. If that’s the case (and I don’t know enough to say that it is) then teh question would become “why do we not diagnose boys with this problem?”

(I’m not saying that societal pressure doesn’t play a role, just that this may also affect people)

13. Winter - December 28, 2005

I think that’s an interesting point. One of the men I knew who very obviously had anorexia was not diagnosed, but his sister, who also had the condition, was diagnosed with it. I don’t think his parents were prepared to face up to having a son with an eating disorder, but they could accept a daughter. The upshot, of course, was that he didn’t get any treatment.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is stigma attached to men with such illnesses because they are perceived as female diseases.


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