Societally deemed a typically feminine mental health issue, the world of eating disorders is generally seen as one unrelatable to men.
Freddie Flintoff, a former cricketer, recently described the moment he came close to speaking out about his eating disorder during a team meeting with a dietitian. The dietitian later remarked that she could not imagine anyone in the team would be suffering from one, and so he refrained from seeking help.
Men are clearly the minority of those suffering from eating disorders, representing around 8% of the total, but we cannot ignore the rising numbers of men seeking treatment. According to a BBC investigation, the number of male patients receiving treatment has increased by 27% in the last 3 years, compared to that of 18% for females.
The accuracy of such figures in representing the true extent of male sufferers can be doubted when considering how many individuals may be suppressing their struggles in the midst of hyper-masculinity, much like the experiences of Freddie Flintoff.
We only have to look to male suicide rates and mental health issues to see that society clearly has a problem with men struggling to talk about or seek help for emotional issues they may be suffering from. Eating disorders often stem from mental health issues.
Men feeling as though they cannot overtly express emotional struggles can lead to the suppression of such feelings within themselves, causing an inner turmoil with no outlet, which may later be projected into ones relationship with food. We must cultivate an environment that enables men to talk more openly about their emotional problems in order to curb the growth of mental health issues among males.
The media has also had a role in the increasing number of men suffering from eating disorders. The rapid development of the online lives that we now lead has led to the promotion of an idealistic body type that haunts everyday members of the public with unrealistic expectations of their own body-image.
The number of males under eighteen seeking help for eating disorders increased by 38% between 2015 and 2016. Males under eighteen are particularly susceptible to the poor mental hygiene cultivated by a proliferation of unattainable body-ideals on social media which, in male and female spheres, is increasingly driven by ‘gym-culture’.
‘Men are clearly the minority of those suffering from eating disorders, representing around 8% of the total, but we cannot ignore the rising numbers of men seeking treatment’.
In a society obsessed with image, young men are seeing certain body types being celebrated in the media, i.e. the more muscular frame of a typical celebrity or a slimmer frame of a male model, which can result in negative perceptions of their own bodies if they do not replicate them. This can lead to struggles with eating after attempts to control their diet to change their body types ends up with an obsession with food that eventually takes control of the individual.
But, what can be done about these images in the media? The media are tasked with finding an impossible balance between promoting body positivity that embraces difference, and the glorification of lifestyles that are plainly unhealthy and damaging.
‘it is crucial that we focus on educating young people about the artificial nature of body-images in the media’.
It would be wrong to say that we should be obliged to encourage and enable lifestyles that set a negative example for physical health and pursue solely the positive reinforcement of body weight, without considering the negative health implications of body-weights that are too high or too low.
Perhaps there is a balance to be found where we encourage the positive reinforcement of difference in weight particularly, but this must be within the confines of what is deemed medically healthy to avoid constructing a social consciousness desensitised to what is and what isn’t a healthy body-fat composition.
It is crucial that we educate young people about the artificial nature of body-images in the media. We ought to make them keenly aware of the fact that most photos of celebrities and models have been doctored — are unrepresentative of the everyday healthy person — and, indeed, the actual appearance of the celebrity themselves.
It is not everyone that will feel the negative effects of society and the media to an extent where they develop an eating disorder, but we must ensure that people with eating disorders — including a rapidly growing number of men — should not be ignored or made to feel ashamed about acknowledging this issue, one which is often sadly deemed too un-masculine to confront.