Body Image Issues in Men | Eating Disorders Victoria
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Body Image Issues in Men

Home ~ Find support ~ EDV blog ~ Body Image Issues in Men

Body Image Issues in Men

Here’s food for thought – when boys are unhappy with their bodies, their quality of life is affected just as much as girls who experience body image issues. The idea that boys are not concerned by their appearance isn’t only untrue, it’s becoming more common. According to the Australian Psychological Society, research has shown that the number of men experiencing body image dissatisfaction has tripled from 15% to 45% in the last 25 years. Body dissatisfaction or negative body image can often result in overwhelming feelings of disappointment, shame and guilt. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviours such as fad dieting, disordered eating, eating disorders, exercise addiction and steroid abuse.

Here we’re breaking down some of the potential consequences of negative body image in males, and how you can support boys and men in your life to find balance and seek help when necessary.  

Eating disorders in males

First things first. Not all eating disorders are caused by body image issues. However, negative body image can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. 

Despite still often being portrayed as illnesses that only affect females, eating disorders are increasingly prevalent in males. Large population studies suggest that up to 25% of people experiencing Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa are male, and almost 50% of people experiencing Binge Eating Disorder are male. However, the percentage of males with eating disorders is estimated to be higher, mostly because eating disorders in men often go undetected in both diagnosis and treatment. The symptoms and side effects of an eating disorder are similar in both men and women, but the prevailing myth that eating disorders don’t affect men mean that the warning signs can often go unnoticed. It’s important that any signs of an eating disorder are taken seriously, and help is sought out early to aid in long-term recovery.

Body / Muscle dysmorphia 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder where someone obsesses over one or more aspect of their appearance which they perceive to be out of proportion or unbearably unattractive. BDD goes beyond having body image issues to the point where repetitive negative behaviours such as repeatedly checking the mirror, grooming or seeking reassurance for hours on end can cause significant distress and even impact your ability to function in your daily life. Muscle dysmorphia is a type of BDD that causes a person to become obsessed with achieving desired levels of muscularity and leanness. It’s important to note that muscle/body dysmorphia are NOT eating disorders. They fall under the category of anxiety disorders however can exist alongside eating disorders.  

Muscle dysmorphia can affect anyone but typically affects men more than women. Recently, there has been a growing rise of men with muscle dysmorphia that might be linked to constantly changing cultural influences and the increasing focus on muscularity. Muscle dysmorphia and BDD can severely affect a person’s daily life and function. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder alongside muscle/body dysmorphia, contact The EDV Hub to get support. 

Want to learn more?

Watch ABC’s Catalyst program on body dysmorphia

Investigating Body Dysmorphia

Steroid abuse 

Steroid abuse or other appearance and performance enhancing drugs is a common behavioral sign of muscle dysmorphia and this trend has been growing rapidly. According to research from Dr Scott Griffiths, steroids accounted for 2% of all injection users in 2010 but grew to 7% nationally in 2014. This increasing use of steroids is evidence of increasing rates of body dissatisfaction and potentially rising rates of muscle dysmorphia. 

Eating disorders in the LGBTIQ+ community

Whilst the LGBTIQ+ identified community has an overall increased risk of developing eating disorders, gay men have a significantly higher risk compared to heterosexual men.  

“Gay males are thought to only represent 5% of the total male population but among males who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay.”

Gay men are more at risk due to unique stressors such as experiencing confusion around sexual orientation, discrimination due to sexual orientation, rejection from family and friends and cultural biases within the gay community regarding appearance.  

LGBTIQ+ friendly mental health services such as Queerspace can be an excellent source of support.  

How can you support boys and men to embrace the skin they’re in?

Education surrounding body image issues need to start early for boys. As young girls are encouraged to embrace positive body image and challenge society’s appearance ideals, we also need to open the conversation to boys. Confident Body Confident Child is a great resource that can assist parents with promoting positive body image and healthy eating patterns in young children.  

It’s also essential to educate young boys on how to critically analyse and consume media portrayals of men so that they don’t develop an unhealthy fixation to body image, weight and food.  Advertising and people on social media utilize Photoshop and Facetune to alter their physical appearance. Advertising reinforces the ‘muscular and lean ideal’ for men by altering pictures and images to portray the ‘perfect body’ but these images are unrealistic and unattainable. 

 

Here are some examples of how photoshopping is used to change a person’s physical appearance: 

Zac Efron photoshopped in the magazine Men's Health. Image on the left shows Zac Efron photoshopped with larger muscles and biceps whilst image on the right shows Zac Efron normally. Justin Bieber photoshopped for the Calvin Klein photoshoot. Image on the right shows Justin Bieber photoshopped with larger muscles and biceps whilst image on the left shows Justin Bieber normally.

Reach out for help early if you or someone you care about is showing signs of an eating disorder. Early intervention is the key to long-term recovery from an eating disorder. You can use resources such as Reach Out And Recover (ROAR) and Feed Your Instinct (for parents and carers) to see the extent and impact of body image and eating problems and will provide help on the next steps to take towards recovery. With the right support, recovery from an eating disorder is possible. 

 

If you are worried that you or someone you know may be presenting warning signs of an eating disorder, please do not hesitate to contact us on 1300 550 236 from 9:30am-4:30pm Monday to Friday or email us at edv@eatingdisorders.org.auAlternatively you can check out our website for more information. 

RECOVERY STORIES

Young, professional, male — and living with an eating disorder

“I am a 30 year old male. I am professionally employed and degree qualified. I have also been suffering from anorexia for the past three years. During this time, it has taken a devastating toll on my physical and emotional health, and my professional and personal life. This is my story.”

Read Ben's story
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