In our own nation, and in our own community, it is an established fact that women are not treated the same as men be it in the eyes of the law, in the amount of money women make, or even in some homes of this country. There seems to be, and there always has been, a sense of disregard for women’s equal rights in a nation that has championed the notion that “all men are created equal.” And yet it seems that many people within our own nation seem to emphasize “men” over “equal.” This must change, and it will change, as all things do, with time and education of our people.
But first I must address an issue that is overlooked time and time again by those who look down upon our nation and our people from their lofty positions in the society we have built from our own work and progress. The state of the well-being and mental health of the young men in our nation with regard to the way those young men perceive their bodies has been long-forgotten and always neglected. In research conducted in 2011, 20 million women were predicted to suffer from an eating disorder. The number for men? 10 million. It is staggering that nearly a third of all patients with eating disorders are men and yet when schools, families, and even communities have discussions regarding body image, men are almost always left out of the conversation. And yet men should just as much be a part of the conversation as women are with regard to body image and eating disorders. There is undeniable pressure put on young women to reach the level of glamour and chic appeal thrust from the agencies on Madison Avenue to the aisles in Ulta or into their very own living rooms.
For young women and those older, the forces that have plagued the minds and hearts of so many young women are identifiable: the Barbie dolls, cosmetics advertisements, nearly all clothing labels, and sometimes even athletes. Have we taken the time to identify the forces that infest the minds and hearts of many men? It is time for us to look at Barbie and to look at Ken. It is time for us to look at cosmetics and men’s health labels. It is time for us to look at Victoria’s Secret and how every company targets men’s underwear. It is time for us to look at the expected body types of women and of men. It is time for us to talk about eating disorders and body image disorders in men and in women. We have long since passed the time in which this is a singular issue for a single gender. This is a dynamic issue that affects all genders.
For men, the number of gay men who suffer from eating disorders compared to heterosexual men is staggering. Research suggests that for 5% of heterosexual men suffer from an eating disorder while that number rises to 15% for men who are as gay. The stereotypes pressed on all gay men within and without of the LGBT community has suffocated the youth of our nation for far too long. For many non-LGBT individuals gay men are either lean and feminine looking or muscular and athletic looking. There seems to be no in-betweens. But even within the gay community itself, men are expected to have the body of a supermodel or the build of a fit swimmer in order to expect any sort of relationship or romantic life. To even be considered attractive, most gay men must conform to stereotypes that are inflicted upon them from within and without their own community.
As someone who suffers from an eating disorder and is male I find it very difficult for people to take my disorder seriously. If a girl is seen to be starving herself blame is placed where it should be placed: on her society and her surroundings. But when I have told people of my eating disorder I have been pointed out privately, berated for not eating enough, and been told that I am looking even more unhealthy now than I was before I noticed a change in my weight. Why not blame the society of the male? Why is it that there is a double standard in the way men are treated for their eating disorders than women? The answer is truly simple. Our society has lauded and exalted masculinity and the man who is “above” any weakness since the Greek poets sang of the journey of Odysseus. If we want men to be properly helped as a nation than we must properly address the way we hold men to certain standards, that is we must destroy our concepts of masculinity within all of our communities. Only then will we be able to work together toward achieving both gender equality, but also aiding millions in care for their eating disorders.
In order to close the wage gap we men must work with women. In order to stop sexism men must work with women. In order to stop racism whites must work with blacks. In order to stop wars the enemy must work with the ally. And if our nation expects to stop the fact that the mortality rate is higher among men than women with eating disorders, men must work with women to address this issue as one society – not a broken society.