“Are you manorexic, or something?”
That used to be a go-to joke of mine when a guy friend or a boyfriend opted for a salad or didn’t finish his meal.
The implication, of course, is that the idea of an anorexic man was far-fetched and ridiculous, and therefore humourous. And the comment was usually met with a surprised laugh.
But, as I begin to realize, there’s actually nothing really funny about it.
Recent events – like the expansion of IMG models to include a plus-size men’s division, the Aerie #AerieMan campaign backlash and the dialogue it inspired, and a powerful post by Wentworth Miller on the ramifications of body shaming – got me thinking about an overdue conversation we need to have.
Plain and simple: Men need to be included in the body positivity movement.
From plus-sized models gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated and ads for major brands, to powerful social media campaigns that go viral, the powerful voices of the body positivity movement are offering a sense of empowerment to females around the world. But men have remained invisibly absent from the conversation.
Many men care as much about their appearance as females do, feeling the same pressures to look a certain way. Not to mention, I know a few who have suffered from some sort of eating disorder – from bulimia (a disorder typically associated with females) to excessive exercise and an ironically unhealthy obsession with the mirror and publications like Men’s Health.
Let’s not forget that, despite a mass embrace of the “dad bod,” men are also bombarded with images of ideals about what sexy is supposed to look like. Going bald isn’t sexy, they’re told in ads for thickening hair treatments. Young ripped guys like Zac Efron and Justin Bieber continue to dominate news feeds. The chiseled, lean, tall, and hairless models on the cover of magazines don’t help the cause either. Though the focus has been on females, insecurities don’t discriminate between the sexes.
“Maybe you want some sort of ripped Abercrombie model with a hairless chest,” a guy once said to me in a discussion about our insecurities in dating one another (and no, I don’t. Chest hair is the best hair). “I worry about those things too,” he said.
This week I joined a group of fellow forward-thinking females for an estrogen-filled pre-work breakfast for the launch of a new book by a Toronto psychotherapist. Called Food, Sex, & You, it explores the relationship between food, body image, and sex. When the conversation turned to sex and how our own body image affects how we feel and behave during sex, the general consensus was that (in heterosexual sex) guys actually aren’t paying attention to things like an additional few pounds around your belly or a little cellulite and are more fixated on the fact that they have a naked female in their bed in the first place.
In reflection, I agreed – in all but one situation. I dated a guy once who very apparently had a thing for skinny girls – the skinnier the better. There would be times when I didn’t want him to see me naked because I knew he’d most definitely notice if he had a little extra of me to grab onto.
He would be the first to tell me if I had put on a few pounds, if an article of clothing wasn’t fitting right (including a loathed bikini that gave me “boob fat” between my breasts and shoulders), or if I was slacking at the gym. And it started to take a serious toll on both my self-esteem and my body.
The skinnier I got, the better he told me I looked.
I realize now that this was likely a result of his own issues with food and personal insecurities, the latter of which are now glaringly obvious years later.
We not only need to start a dialogue so that men can get the help that they need, but also so they can stop imposing these ideas on their girlfriends and wives who are already bombarded with societal pressure when it comes to physical appearance. As much as the body positivity movement is empowering females around the world to embrace their bodies, it also comes at a time when an obsession with appearance – from perfectly edited social media shots to things like hair extensions, eyelash extensions, Botox, and fillers – are at an all-time high. It’s difficult for men to jump on board with the movement if they’re struggling themselves.
Here’s the thing: Eating disorders are a mental illness. Of course, we also live in a society with pre-conceived notions of things like anorexia and bulimia to be female-associated. Though we’ve made serious strides to erode the long-held stigma surrounding mental illness, it still persists. It’s tough enough for a female to “come out” with her body image issues despite their prevalence (when asked if anyone had experienced an eating disorder or known someone who had, all the females at the breakfast raised their hand), let alone for a male to admit he has an eating disorder. Including men in the body positivity movement would help to break down this stigma.
If you still don’t think it’s necessary, consider the stats: Recent studies suggest that 25 per cent of eating disorder cases in Canada occur in young boys and men. So, yeah, it’s time.