When you think of someone with anorexia, an image of an impossibly skinny female model is generally the first to come to mind. The prevalence of the condition among men goes highly unnoticed. Has society turned anorexia into a gender-specific condition, causing it to go untreated in men? Does the image of an “ideal” male, as portrayed in magazines and certain sports, affect the men who have anorexia? These are questions that few people seem to ask.
The condition often remains undetected among men due to the mentality that it is a gender-specific problem. According to an article from ABCNews.com titled “Men with eating disorders have tougher time getting help” by Sydney Lupkin, Victor Avon was diagnosed in 2006 and researched the condition in one of his college textbooks. Missing your period for three consecutive months was listed as one of the symptoms which lead Avon to think, “I can’t get my period. Never had it before, and it’ll be a miracle if I do get it. Right here in this book, this says I have a girls’ disease and that I’m broken.” Many other men with anorexia may feel the same way because of how anorexia is portrayed by society.
“Male anorexia” by Nathaniel Penn, posted on GQ.com, states that “many afflicted men feel too stigmatised to go to a doctor and many doctors don’t recognise the early, ambiguous symptoms.” In the article “Boys dying to be thin: the new face of anorexia” published on NBCNews.com, Yardena Schwartz says that there is a level of shame that accompanies eating disorders in men.
Each individual has their own views about what is attractive, but does a woman’s perception of the “ideal male body” have an effect on men to change their appearance? Sam-Annique Swanepoel, a first-year BSc Agriculture student, says that her perception of the “ideal man” in terms of physical features is “nice legs, tall, big biceps and a six-pack”.
Scott*, an u/19 Blue Bulls player and a first-year mechanical engineering student at Unisa, says, “Most, if not all, men try [to] look good to impress girls [while] some just have a natural build.” Second-year BA Law student Miles Lovell says, “In my experience, women have been surprisingly forgiving in this regard. I’m a healthy and fit individual but I look nothing like the models in magazines. This doesn’t seem to have affected my relationships with the various women I’ve dated.”
Being overweight or merely perceiving yourself as fat is a driving force for dieting and exercising. Rugby is a sport dominated by men and the job description requires players to weigh more than what is considered normal. Are the players therefore seen as overweight? Scott says that a person’s actual weight does not determine whether or not he or she is overweight. Rugby players’ weight is determined by the position that they play. Scott says, “[A] prop weighs plus-minus 110kg while a fly-half weighs [between] 80 [and] 90kg. It is only considered to be overweight when a person’s body fat reaches a certain amount [and] not the actual weight of a person.” He concludes that if muscle mass and not body fat, determines a person’s weight then that person cannot be seen as overweight.
Social media also plays a big role in how people perceive themselves. Movies, television and an annual list of the “sexiest men alive” display the socially accepted ideal man. The article “Rise of eating disorders among men and boys” by Dr Ananya Mandal published on NewsMedical.net says, “Our whole culture puts pressure on people to look a certain way and there are images out there that give boys an impossible ideal to aspire to.”
Scott believes that looking good should be more about being comfortable in your own body and less about what other people think. “You don’t have to have a six-pack in order to feel or look good. It’s all about you,” he says.
Society places pressure on men and women to be “perfect”. It is important to accept that there is a problem and to seek professional help in due time. “Consult a dietician and take with you what you want to achieve. [Don’t] try [to] go on diets and cut out certain things unless stated by a medical physician and if you crave something, eat it. [It’s] your body’s way of telling you what it needs,” says Scott.
* Name has been changed