Body image issues aren’t gender specific

The strange thing is we don’t really have a history of males trying to break through any female-dominated barriers.

Women broke through the voting barrier in 1920. But women have not broken the glass ceiling of the male-female gap, and they haven’t overcome the extreme body image society has developed for them. Curiously, though, men must face an extreme body image, too, but their voice in the matter is nearly nonexistent.

This probably has to do with the fact that women are generally have a larger degree of openness, making them more likely to seek help than the average man. In addition, the nature of the way males and females are brought up could also contribute to whether they seek help for their body image issues.

Generally, girls are brought up in an environment that accepts and encourages the discussion of feelings. For boys, it’s not so much that they are told they can’t discuss their feelings, but there is never really any encouragement to do so.

As boys get older, they might be told to “suck it up,” or “be a man” if they ever break down. We have said males are supposed to be the “strong” ones: If they happened to have an eating or body image disorder, they’d be viewed as weak.

According to the American Psychological Association, “men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are ‘woman’s (sic) diseases.’” This disconnect between males and females produces girls who will more likely approach others with their problems and boys who tend to keep it all inside. No matter how boys or girls express it, there is still the same underlying problem: Body dysmorphic disorder, which is described as a “preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance” by the National Library of Medicine.

For males, this disorder tends to have more to do with obsessive bodybuilding. It may not be extreme starvation or purging, but it is a body image issue, nevertheless. Yet, we still would be more likely to unfairly associate body dysmorphic disorder with women more often than men because body building is seen as “typical” male behavior.

Because their behavior is so typical, they might not seek out help — the ideas and expectations of masculinity we have propagated through popular media show them their behavior is normal, despite the contrary.

Society pressures men to go to body building extremes, but on the flip side, they, like women, can be anorexic or bulimic.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states on its website: “An estimated 10-15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.” Eating disorders aren’t just female problems.

It seems like we are somehow discriminating against men based on our widespread sexist views of how men and women should look and behave. We are doing a good job creating double standards. With women, we say you can’t be fat, but with men we say they must conform to some overly exercised physique.

I also blame this, in part, on the media. How many times have you seen a TV show or movie convey a story about a male with anorexia? Unless you frequent the Lifetime movie channel, I’m sure you haven’t seen many. Especially none with a story line focused on a guy who refused to eat because he wanted to look better.

How many times have you seen magazine covers sporting pictures of another female celebrity who looks too skinny? Countless. Just the same, you’ve seen countless men plastered on magazine covers with unrealistic depictions of what biceps, pecs and abs need to look like. I’m sure you usually feel a little bit of disgust, shock or maybe even a twinge of sympathy.

Still, a male celebrity suffering from bulimia or any kind of body image issue sounds strange. It would be something that we would consider out of the ordinary because of ideas that we’ve constantly been exposed to of men’s roles.

There is more stress in the media on the various specifications for a perfect “womanly” body, so it makes more sense for us to have a wider acceptance and understanding of females with these insecurities than men. Look no further than the covers of People Magazine, where it pushes “how to get a swimsuit body like Kate Upton” or the covers of Men’s Health, where it screams “how to get abs like Ryan Reynolds.”

Despite what’s widely accepted and what isn’t, we need to realize that anorexia, bulimia and other body image disorders are as serious a problem for men as for women. And although the quantity of men who suffer might not be the same as their female counterparts, the gravity of the sickness isn’t any less.

Sehar is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]