Eating disorders don’t just apply to women

By Jamie Linton, Columnist

When you imagine runway models, your mind most likely flashes through images of tall, glossy women with chiseled abs and glowing airbrushed skin.

For most fashion brands this image holds true, but in the past several years brands have sought to defy traditional beauty standards.  Despite the popularity of these campaigns, it seems as if most have missed a vital aspect for success — the inclusion of men.  

Women everywhere are held to unfair beauty standards perpetuated by the media and fashion industry.  Even worse, these toxic expectations have contributed to the development of eating disorders, which have been classified as the single most deadly type of mental illness.  

At least 20 million women in the United States suffer from eating disorders, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.  And every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as the direct result of an eating disorder.

But what many people don’t know is that 10 million American men also suffer from these diseases.  An survey of university students found that 3.6 percent of men in the 2,822 participants tested positive for some type of eating disorder.  Furthermore, there is research to suggest that the mortality rate for individuals with eating disorders is higher in men than it is in women.  

The stigma that inhibits many men from seeking help for their mental illnesses, especially those with eating disorders, is the common association of this type of illness with being feminine or gay.  

The stereotype is particularly difficult to avoid because many men who suffer from these disorders go undiagnosed due to fear of embarrassment.  This further perpetuates the idea that it’s a women-only problem because the surrounding data is underestimated.  

To worsen this issue, a plethora of fashion companies have introduced campaigns that aim to defy western beauty standards and celebrate body positivity — but with virtually no change in body image standards for men.  

In fact, there has been an increase in the proportion of undressed men in the media beginning in the 1980’s.  To add to this fact,  muscle enhancer use in adolescent men is at an all-time high at 34.7 percent of men consuming protein powders or shakes and 5.9 percent using steroids, according to The Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics.  

This is especially worrisome for college students attempting to avoid the “Freshmen 15,” another stigma created by the media that reaches high school students early on.  In fact, 55 percent of students surveyed indicated being worried about gaining weight while in college and 61 percent indicated that they were limiting their food intake. 

The media’s obsession with image doesn’t apply solely to feminine genders; it has a significant effect on all genders and, most importantly, needs to be openly discussed in terms of men.  

Considering the current rise of mental disorders among adolescents and younger adults, in addition to the already-high mortality rate in individuals with eating disorders, it’s important we are open about the disastrous nature of these stigmas.

Those who are experiencing or are concerned about the possibility of having an eating disorder should not be afraid to seek the help they need despite these harmful stereotypes.  

Jamie is a freshman in Media.
[email protected]