Image

In between mood swings this week, I stumbled upon a few illuminating articles and links about men and body image issues. I share them with you today while noshing on some cheese. (Seriously—aged cheddar to be exact!) The first goody came from Down Under via the Sydney Morning Herald. The headline: “The dangerous quest for an ‘ideal’ body.

In a bold, revealing read, the Herald chronicled some of the significant issues surrounding men and body image today—those addressed in the book I co-wrote, “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!” and others that will be addressed in my forthcoming book, “Shut Up, I’m Eating!” Basically, that there are more than a gaggle of men out there—both straight and gay—who deal with body image issues and don’t really discuss it, either amongst themselves, or with others close to them. At all.

Which is why … I like to discuss it.

One of the best paths toward “recovery”/ clarity is just to begin having a discussion about what dwells beneath the surface. We live in an era where we’re told (through media and peer pressure) that if we don’t look a certain way—for men, buff and muscular; or lean, lanky and “skinny”—then there is something unacceptable about us.

Shut up, to that!

The time has never been more ripe for guys come out of the closet about the issue. But the first step is talking about it.

The article in the Herald notes that there is ample support for young girls and women—those with weight/diet obsessions that can eventually lead to eating and body image disorders—but that when it comes to men, it’s an entirely different animal: While considerable attention is focused on helping women overcome the eating and exercise disorders that often result from such insecurities, scant consideration is being paid to the effects felt by the men currently battling similar issues.

Megan O’Connor, the communications and media officer for Eating Disorders VIctoria, is quoted: “Most body image experts agree that some men with body image problems or eating disorders don’t get help due to the shame and self-imposed silence that goes with experiencing a so-called women’s illness.”

But it’s not a women’s “illness” any longer. In fact, it never (just) was.

Flashback to five years ago, and you will discover research indicating that men spent:

• $4 billion on exercise equipment and health club memberships

• $3 billion on grooming aids and fragrances

• $800 million on hair transplants

Other research indicates that today’s college men have greater levels of body dissatisfaction. A University of Iowa Health Care study published 10 years ago reveals that “males associate their attractiveness with increased muscle definition, and are concerned about body shape.”

Some more facts:

•Eating disorders in males typically involve a constant competition to stay more defined than other men (University of Iowa Health Care, 2002)

•Gay and heterosexual men have equivalent levels of body esteem, satisfaction with body shape, and desired levels of thinness.

And then … there’s this delicious gem from Noah Brand, the edior-in-chief of The Good Men Project, a super new site I stumbled upon whose mission, it seems, revolves around re-shaping the “male” image, among other things: “Men are conditioned from childhood not to talk about these issues. I knew that if we were going to get anyone seriously talking about them somebody would have to do something really confrontational. And I was raised to believe that when you think someone ought to do something your next thought should be, Hey, I’m someone.”

Brand is referring to his decision to bare all in one of his Good Men Project’s post (see below) in which he unabashedly notes: “I’m Done Being Ashamed.”

Image

Photo: Good Men Project

In his own post, Brand writes: “I have a body type one sees a lot: male pattern baldness, plenty of body hair, builds both muscle and fat very easily. You see guys like me all the time, with our wide shoulders and wider beer guts. Burly sonsabitches, often rocking the shaved-head-and-beard combo. It is not, it’s fair to say, a body type that is highly lauded by media culture … I didn’t always look like this. When I was a teenager, I was so skinny I won awards for dressing as Jack Skellington, which sounds like a joke and isn’t. When I was twenty, I dressed as Nightwing for a costume contest, and the woman MCing the show called me “the reason spandex was invented.”

That was a long time ago. Nowadays, I’m technically considered obese.”

Kudos to Brand and the Herald for addressing these über issues to winning ends. Every time I discuss the matter—via  interview or book signing, etc.—I notice the energy heightens. There’s somewhat of an a-ha moment that takes place. Let’s keep the dialogue going.

So, how satisfied are you with your appearance?

Last night I had the privilege of being interviewed by and chatting with Nate Klarfeld, who’s based in Ft. Lauderdale and hosts the StonewallLive blogtalk radio show. It’s a stellar show that focuses on the best of books, movies, media and more as it relates to the LGBT community. And Nate … was a wonderful host. Be sure to check it out while you’re online.

But as I was listening to the podcast this morning, I was reminded that Nate and I had brought up the topic of “what can be done” to thwart/offset body image issue among gay men. We were talking about the onslaught of media and advertising images, like the one above, which often suggest that we’re to fit a certain body image ideal. In other words, buy Calvin Klein so you can look “Calvin Klein.”

As Nate and I talked, we delved into how the urge to look “perfect” has become a huge issue among gay men. One of the things that came to mind when Nate asked me what can be done, was this: talk about it. I sense that in talking about these issues more—with friends, with each other—somehow takes away the string. Trust me: if an elephant strolled into your living room, you’d say something. And for many gay men, body image issues are like that proverbial elephant.

Yet … few of us really talk about it—with much depth.

Because gay men walk around in a world where they are told they must look fit, be fit and stay fit; because gay men are told  that if don’t reach that ideal “look” they are “inferior” … because gay men succumb to the pressures and often do whatever they can to look like a stud … they are more likely to remain lost in the ego and suffer from body image issues.

Shut up and do something good for the world, I say. Something other than obsessing about the way your body looks.

In the meantime, tune in/download the podcast from the StonewallLIVE show here.

More soon …

My eyebrows raised after discovering some interesting news about body images issues overseas. In an effort to stunt the spread of eating eating disorders and body image issues, a new Israeli law is now in place that bans underweight models from its local ads. You heard that right—UNDERWEIGHT models.

Imagine that.

There’s more: The law also insists publications disclose when they use altered images that make the ladies—and even the men—appear thinner. Yes. Thinner.

A bold move indeed. The law, which just passed last week, could generate a ripple effect throughout Europe and into the Americas. It’s the first of its kind, really; a delicious attempt by a government to use legislation that directly combats the oft-misaligned fashion industry, which has for years been accused–and rightly so—of fueling eating disorders and body image issues through the kinds of photographs it uses and sends out into the mainstream.

It’s curious to note that in Isreal, about 2 percent of girls 14-18 years of age actually have serious eating disorders. According to anthropologist Sigal Gooldin, a prominent researcher of eating disorders, that statistic is similar to those found in other developed countries.

And we thought this was only prevelant in America.

The new law would also mandate that models produce a medical document, which would date back about three months, at every photo shoot in Isreal’s ad market. Basically the document would assure that the model is not—wait for it–MALNOURISHED by the standards listed from the World Health Organization.

Imagine what would happen if this could spread into the Americas; if the ad industry actually took a valid interest in the health and well being of its models; where any size would be considered acceptible, enjoyable, celebrated? Better still, imagine what could happen is even more scrutiny were placed on male models, especially the ones found scantily clad in many gay publications like The Advocate, or Out and their close and distant cousins? True, these magazines feature men sporting muscles but, and I am sure I am not the only one, you can’t help but wonder how many of those men are actually in perfect health. Their bodies may appear to be in fine form but how they arrive at their current frame is often questionable.

It’s one of the reasons why my co-author, Dr. Maria Rago, and I featured a chapter on the issue of men and body image (and eating disorders) in our book “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!”

So, who’s at the helm of the law? Adi Barkan, an Israeli model titan who’s worked in the field for about three decades. Barkan noticed young women becoming skinnier and skinnier over time and downright unhealthy as they kept “shrinking” into the mold outlined by the ad industry.

Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA, recently said in a statement: “It is just so impressive that the Israeli Parliament has taken these serious steps in an effort to save lives. We know that eating disorders are so dangerous, and yet in the U.S. we continue to turn a blind eye to the problem and the many contributing factors. We hope that our Congress will begin to address the problems here at home.”

Dr. Rachel Adatto, who chairs the Health Lobby at the Knesset and was an initiator of the bill also released a statement: “This law will erase the anorexic image of beauty transmitted by the media, the fashion industry and advertising and will help protect the health of Israeli youth. The law will change the current situation where underweight male and female fashion models represent the ideal for children and youth and so, in effect, push them towards the terrible curse of eating disorders that attack not only the mind but the body. With this law, we are bringing the ideals of beauty back within the limits of logic, of health, within reasonable limits that will prevent our children sliding down the slippery slope into eating disorders. This law sends a message to our young people that thinness may be popular but that there is a limit and it is possible to be too thin.”

The law is already generating buzz, especially because it factors in the BMI (Body Mass Index) issue. The WHO reveals that a body-mass index below 18.5 suggests malnutrition. The new law would include BMI tests, among other things.

The BMI issue unleashes plenty of debate–both pro and con. Some argue that a person’s overall health should be taken into account—not just their BMI. Consider the flip side: people with higher BMIs—those deemed “overweight” and unhealthy because of high BMIs. Is initiating that same kind of thinking for people considered “too thin” an ideal method to revealing their true health?

I lean toward taking a person’s overall health into account and not just using the BMI-index as the ultimate guide. Regardless, it’s refreshing to finally see some countermovement out there; one that directly butts creative heads with an industry whose obsession—and indulgence in generating ad dollars—has single-handedly been one of the worst offenders of promoting unrealistic body image.

Thoughts?

HOURGLASS FIGURES How much time do we spend thinking about having the perfect bod?

“I’m too fat.”

“My biceps aren’t big enough!”

“I need to drop a pants size.”

Chronic dieters and body-checkers, as well as fitness addicts whose drive to obtain the perfect body is often questionable—what’s the real motive?—can probably relate to some of those phrases. Sure, gay men may not be the only souls who think such thoughts, but let’s face it, the pressure to look a certain way; to create the body beautiful, is overtly prevalent in gay culture.

For self-checkers, no part of the body is left un-examined. So determined are we to be something other than we are—at the present moment—that we tend to engage in a sort of guerilla warfare, stopping at nothing until we reach our perceived ideal weight, size, fit. You name it.

We may be men, but sometimes we act like babies, violently shaking the rattle of our psyches in our futile quests to obtain the “perfect” bod. Ultimately, we morph into ruthless people, lost in a trance. We don’t realize our true worth. We forget who we really are. We can’t be happy unless we …

Have

That

Look!!!

As in his. Somebody other than you.

But we don’t have to forget who we are. We don’t have to stop appreciating ourselves or our body—whatever size it is.

What would happen if we spent an entire day practicing the art of just listening to what we’re saying to ourselves? As in, consciously taking a mental step back and just noticing our thoughts?

Imagine that. Try it right now. Listen to yourself. What are you telling yourself … about you?

Henry David Thoreau once said: “Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”

I like this one by Deepak Chopra: “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”

For professional mood swingers out there—I’ve been known to make a career out of that, too, you’re not alone—that last quote may provoke a chuckle. Keep stillness inside of you? How the heck …?

Just listen—to you.

That’s the first step. You don’t need to do anything more. You don’t even need to judge what you are thinking. (Although, most of us will be tempted.) But if you can just practice listening, serenity is not that far behind. Because the more you listen to yourself from a detached point of view, you eventually come to realize that the severe critical thinking you may be engaging in, cannot possibly be a reflection of the real you.

Ultimately, we must come to realize that any equation where the sum equals “I’m Not Good Enough” simply cannot be true. How can it?  Still, it takes time to integrate this. It takes practice.

But we’re strong. Stronger than we realize. If we could survive our childhood, dates gone wrong, horrible breakups, bad hair days … surely, we can survive our unmanaged thoughts. But first we have to pay attention to them. (If we’re willing to work our bodies like banshees for that ideal “look,” then surely, we have the willpower to notice our thoughts.)

I’m willing to shut up and give it a try. How about you?

I once had a Life Coach who suggested, for effectiveness, to jot down a Daily Top Six. In an effort to stay organized, the Top Six would list the things that were important to accomplish on that day. After a while, I began to include a Top Six of things I was grateful for. I did this every morning. The list soon grew to 11—my favorite number. Nevertheless, it helped fuel my brain with the type of spiritual protein I needed. What you focus on grows, after all,  so why not begin the day with focusing on the things you’re grateful for? (Especially when you find yourself believing you must change your body to fit a certain ideal.)

When we’re locked into to thinking we’re not perfect; when we crave so deeply to be something other than we are right now; when we insist that there is something wrong with our bodies—many gay men are lost in this endless cycle—we lose sight of how valuable our lives actually are, and more importantly, how they can be.

 Take note of six things to be gratitude for today. 
Your Friends: Club pals are fun, but who are your real friends? Who “gets” you? Your gym partner … or somebody able to see your deeper self? Take stock of those people you really connect with. We live in a world where so much “non connection” exists, and is encouraged—don’t fool yourself with Facebook and Twitter because, over time, our use of those Social Media bitches, can actually distract us, rather than bring us closer together.

Your Family: Many gay men relish their extended families; those close friends and associates that may not be part of their genetic family. However “family” has played itself out in our lives, we all know who are “family” is. Relish their presence in your life today. 

Your Partnerships: Who do you love? Who loves you? How do you express your love? How do you receive it? Check in with yourself and consider all  the relationships in your life—from personal to professional. Give thanks that they are there. Give thanks that you are on the receiving end of goodwill. 

 Your Health: No brainer, right? But think about it: how often do we really give thanks for our good health? Or, our ability to use our arms and legs; our eyes to see; our nose to smell; our tongue to taste? We can take these things for granted. Our bodies are so perfectly designed. When we spend time criticizing it, believing that it MUST look a certain way, we’re dishonoring ourselves. Be grateful for the body you have—today. Right now. Not when the six-pack abs arrive. (Be grateful for that, too, if you must, but stay in the “now.”)

Abs-solutely Fabulous? Sure. Why not?

Your Connection To Something Good: It’s a spiritual smorgasbord out there. Chances are, if you’re committed to doing the inner work, and evolving spiritually, you inherently believe in something good, something bigger than, well, you … and just having the perfect glutes. (They’re nice, but I’m not sure how much they’re giving back to the world—well … on second thought …)

That You’re Alive—Relish It: Go the mirror and take a look at your fine self. Really—do it. Stand there for about three to five minutes, take a deep breath and actually look at yourself. (In the eyes, mister!) Now, think about it: the YOU that you are … the YOU that got you up this morning … the YOU that got you through your day … the YOU that has been breathing and operating in the world—all that you’ve seen, said, felt and more—on this very day is unique. The YOU that you are is not an accident. There is NOTHING wrong with you. You’re life is not spinning out of control because you’re biceps aren’t “big enough.” So, express some gratitude for your life—not just your muscles. If you need a little push, take note: a report published in UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF in November 2011, and that refers to the end of 2010, notes the following: There are an estimated 34 million people living with AIDS; 3.4 million children live with AIDS; there were 1.8 million deaths related to AIDS in 2010. Being fit and healthy is one thing, but really … we need to be reminded to keep in perspective.

(For fun, play the Gratitude Experiment—video above—and express gratitude to somebody else in your life. See if they are able to “receive” your praise.)


Am I perfect yet?

I was intrigued by a recent cover story in Details Magazine. The big, bold headline read: “America’s New Male Body Obsession.” And the subhead: “It’s official: The Male Gaze Has Turned Upon Itself, and American Men Are Focused on Their Physiques as Never Before.”

Among the many things the article points out, the opening statements are sobering: “… Everywhere you turn, the male form is being idealized, commodified, fetishized. On TV screens (the ripped vampires of True Blood), in Hollywood (Ryan Gosling’s toned torso lifting Crazy, Stupid, Love to the top of the box office), and on billboards (towering images of chiseled men in briefs), laptops, and smartphones (the appendages of Weiner and Favre). Now look in the mirror. (And we know you do.) We’ve all become body-conscious to the core…”

Indeed. In my last post, I reported about a recent study that noted the majority of gay men would give up a year of their life, or more, to acquire that perfect body. According to Rosi Prescott, the CEO of Central YMCA and who was interviewed by PinkNews, where the story originally ran,  the research shows that “body image anxiety is sadly much more of an issue for gay men.

“Today gay men are under enormous pressure about their bodies,” Prescott added, “and we believe that a lack of body diversity in the media, including the gay press, and a relentless focus which values people based on appearance, may in part explain why gay men are particularly susceptible to this issue. This is of concern when we know that record numbers of men are taking steroids or having unnecessary cosmetic surgery to achieve what is often an unattainable or unrealistic body image ideal.”

After sifting through both the Details’ article and the original study, I recalled one of the more potent interviews I conducted over the last few years. It was with Geneen Roth. She’s the celebrated author of “Women, Food and God” and “Lost and Found,” and quite the trailblazer when it comes to raising the level of awareness around the severity of eating disorders and body image issues. (Her books, by the way, aren’t solely for a female audiences. Many of the issues she addresses are universal and affect both women and men.)

Roth told me that she struggled with her weight most of her life, gaining and losing more than a thousand pounds since adolescence, fluctuating between dangerously overweight and severely underweight. Yet she remained committed to fully understanding herself and her motivations. And so, as is often the case with such passionate internal quests—be careful what you ask for—around 1979, she took action and did the one thing she may not have thought she ever would: Stop dieting. 

“I felt like I [was] in a living hell for so many years because I thought my pain was about my relationship to food,” Roth revealed. “I suffered hugely, having been on dozens of diets and gaining and losing every week, and feeling that what was wrong with me was the size of my body; feeling that the size of my life and the size of my body were exactly, perfectly synonymous.”

But putting a halt to dieting wasn’t so much about being overweight.
 She writes: “When I stopped dieting, it was because I glimpsed the possibility that my crazy eating was the sanest thing I’d ever done. If I didn’t reject it, try to be good or measure up to an external standard of right eating or right body size, if I was curious and open about each part of it—what I was eating, how I felt while I was eating, what happened in the moments before I suddenly found myself hacking away at frozen cake in an attempt to get the whole thing into my mouth ten minutes ago—the eating itself would lead me back to the feelings, beliefs, fears that created the addiction. Once I understood what I was using food to do, I could ask myself if there was a more direct way to have what I wanted without hurting myself in the process.”

I love that last statement because it suggests that one’s disorder—and all things that make it up, whether it be binge eating, starvation, dieting, body checking/fixation, and more—can act as the epiphany most people seem to be craving.  In other words … your food-related/body-image acts are actually an external manifestation of your inner self trying to get you to pay attention to something deeper—about you. All in an effort the heal or transform something. (It’s delicious irony if you think about it.) As Roth suggests, it’s not about “the food” … it’s more about that “thing” that makes you reach out toward food in, perhaps, an unhealthy way in the first place.

Cut back on plastic: Yo-Yo diets aren't healthy.

So, in regards to men and body image, I believe that the actions—the addictive behaviors around obtaining body “perfection”—are actually signals that something deeper is not being attended to. It’s tasty fodder and one of the reasons why I am writing this blog. As I noted before during the book tour of “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!” I don’t have the all the answers to these curious issues, but I do believe that engaging in conversations about it—especially men and body image—is extremely helpful.

It’s 2012. When the elephant steps into the living room, it’s OK to talk about it.

In the meantime, taking a step back, and simply observing our actions around food, body image, etc., is a good first step. For when we’re able to do just that … even for one day … we begin to see a clearer picture of not only who we are (at the moment), but how we are being.

More importantly, over time, it may help us appreciate the best qualities of ourselves and re-examiner who we really want to be or become. And I propose it’s something greater than a human being who can fit into skinny jeans.

Some delicious news just came across my desk.

According to unicornbooty.com, a recent study of 394 participants conducted by the Central YMCA, the Succeed Foundation and the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE Bristol, found that about 92 percent of gay men are obsessed with body image and that 59 percent of gay men compare themselves to other men they deem more attractive. And the figure for straight men? Half of that.

That may provoke a “no, duh” out there, but let’s do some more math.

The study also concluded that 48 precent of gay men would sacrifice a year or more of their lives in exchange for a perfect body. ONE YEAR. And then came this morsel:  10 precent of gay men would agree to die more than 11 years earlier if they could have their ideal body now. And this: Nine in ten gay men admit they also “enforce unrealistic images” of “attractive” muscular men in talking with others. About 35 precent of gay men said they were “anxious” about what their pals think about their body.

And straight men? Only one in five straight men seemed to care what their friends think about their body.

While this news may not be surprising to some, the 411 certainly raises eyebrows and once again proves to me that there are not many discussions being had among gay men about the deep desires/pressures to fit a certain ideal—the “gay” ideal/look that somehow became a standard way of being. By not talking about these issues, the problem continues.

I’ll be doing talks to groups of gay men on the matter this spring—all this sprouted thanks, in part, to a chapter about men and eating disorders that was included in the book I co-wrote “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!”

Stay tuned for more on this matter, but in the meantime, I say this: Shut up, and do some service!

Being healthy and looking good is nice. But when it becomes an obsession, how healthy is it, really? Giving is actually proven to offer stellar health benefits. Not too long ago, Forbes Magazine came out with a report that illuminated the benefits of charitable work. Giving immediately pulls you away from yourself. There’s no time to worry if you look good in your jeans. You can’t really focus on how many carbs, calories or fat grams you’ve been consuming—or how many your pal has either. There isn’t enough to time to fret about dieting or obsess about buffing up your biceps or hoping for that rock-hard ass that will make your world spectacular.

Here’s the thing: The world is spectacular no matter what weight or size you are. It’s there for the taking. Look around. LOOK at the people around you. Life isn’t all about how much a person weighs or how they look. It’s more about inter-relationality. So, if we find ourselves consumed with a new fad diet or something of that ilk, maybe it’s best to catch ourselves and consider switching gears. Why not locate several places in our neighborhood where we can give back—a homeless shelter or a food bank that feeds the homeless are great portals where you’re giving can make a difference. But there are so many others, too—from organizations helping teens or at-risk youths to mentoring.

Look away from the mirror—and body obsession. In 2012, it’s not about your waistline …. It’s about giving back.

OUT: Being overly self-involved.

IN: Giving.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the great Mohammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

The Body Beautiful: A Hellish Heaven?

With 2012 upon us, I’ve been pondering the state of hunger. Not so much “feeding those who go without food,” including the homeless—although check out Grind Out Hunger and Danny Keith and see some stellar activism happening in that realm—but more so about boys and men whose deep internal hunger pangs for self-acceptance often reveal themselves in the form of an eating disorder or a body image disorder.

The latter is especially true within the gay men’s community, where you often find a bevy of gay men devoting much of their livelihood to look physically “acceptable” among their gay comrades. In more concentrated gay areas, like West Hollywood, or San Francisco’s Castro District, and, really, much of Palm Springs, gay men are known to head to the gym six to seven times a week, diving into grueling workouts to acquire that perfect bod, one that often mirrors an advertising image found in publications like Out, The Advocate, or any Abercrombie & Fitch marquee.

Much like American women, who have endured an onslaught of media images insisting they must look and be a certain way, and aspire to a certain ideal, men—gay men especially—are on the receiving end of similar ideals. Basically … that unless they’re buffed and scrubbed up, there is something wrong with them.

I wrote about some of this in the book I co-authored, “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches” and have since found myself exploring my own insecurities about my body and what I think I should look like. (Imagine my shock when it finally sunk in that I had spent a good portion of my life feeling “fat” and “inferior” physically and that true happiness was only a bigger bicep and thinner waistline away!)

So, I began to wonder: in the quest to look great, does one ever truly arrive?

No. On the surface, perhaps. But the internal angst continues.

The majority of men I spoke with or interviewed while doing research for the book—and these blog posts and other health stories—admitted that their pang to always look better far out-weighed any true happiness inside. Alarming but a fascinating reality that exists—and one that isn’t really being discussed much. (See also America The Beautiful 2—great doc that touches on the matter.)

Think about it: how often have your gay comrades come together and talked about such internal truths?

Not too long ago, I appeared on David Perry’s television show in San Francisco to discuss some of the issues facing gay men. But before diving into the video segment below, I’ll leave you with this stat: The N.A.M.E.D. (National Association For Men With Eating Disorders) website  notes an  Alliance for Eating Disorders report that says, “Eating disorders currently affect approximately 25 million Americans, in which 25 percent are men.”  (“Men” technically being “males” or “boys and men.”)  Bottom line: an estimated 6.25 million males have eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

My goal in 2012 is to speak about eating disorders and body image disorders to/with groups of gay men. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming month. In the meantime, take note of my interview below:

Rising to the Occasion?

When I was chubby Polish kid growing up in Chicago, my parents would take us on vacations to Canada, which has a large Polish community. We always ate well on these trips and by the time I was in fourth grade, I realized that if there was one thing that could “save” me from my vast confusing waves of emotions—who am I and why is everybody in my family screaming at each other?—it was food.

That was decades ago, but the pattern of behavior I learned back then—to protect my inner world, whatever the cost (so young, so fierce I was)—has played itself out quite wildly in my life. Especially this month, no doubt the result of having dived into reading more books on the subject of eating disorders and body image disorders. I found a gem recently, dubbed, “It’s Not About the Food.” Bestselling author Geneen Roth talks about this, too, in her many workshops and book signings. “… Food” was written by Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark Founders of Beyond Hunger, Inc., a great organization in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So, there I was … minding my own business when, on page 40 or 52, or 47, or somewhere around there, I got in touch with something pure …

and original …

and real …

and raw.

ME.

As in … the me I may have been avoiding. OK—the me I was avoiding. Like … the Deep Down There Me. (Take a look, you have one, too.)

I was fascinated by something I was reading: That an individual’s body image disorder and/or their eating disorder … is attempting to communicate something to them, about themselves, from deep within; as in … it exists as an alert to something greater, or some greater knowledge about themselves. Could it be that the disorder is communicating to the individual that it’s very presence has been the only way they know how to take care of themselves—binge-eating, restricting food, shaming, self-criticism, etc.?

I finished reading the chapter, set the book down and sighed. Deeply.

What was I trying to tell myself through all my food binges over the years; now even? What was I attempting to communicate to myself by restricting foods and all that yo-yo dieting? What am I trying to communicate to myself when I am constantly judging the size and shape of my body?

What feelings have been left at the welcome matt of the soul, desperately waiting to come inside for refuge?

This got me thinking—again—about the gay male community at-large. Body image issues are rampant. I spoke about this at my recent book signing at Books Inc., in San Francisco, for the book I co-wrote with Dr. Maria Rago, “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches.” I perused one of our chapters, dubbed, “Shut Up, About Excluding Guys,” which plunges into the issue of body image and more, as it relates to men and gay men, and young boys.

Take note of some of the stats we uncovered in our research:

•Every one in eight boys (out of 100,000), ages 12 to 18, reported using dietary supplements. (From Project EAT/Eat Among Teens)

•The Eat Among Teens studies (EAT) performed by the Minn- esota University School of Public Health surveyed 2,500 teens across five years. The stats tell us a full 30 percent of males are dissatisfied with their bodies. They feel shame and fear of being unacceptable and rejected, perhaps because 50 percent believe they should be thinner, and 50 percent think they should be heavier and more muscular. Overall, girls hate their bodies and want them to be smaller.But guys are in a double bind—to be simultaneously large, muscular, trim, and slender.

Fit enough—yet?

There’s more.
• One in eight boys (out of 100,000) between the ages twelve and eighteen, reported using dietary supplements. And who knows what the hell is in those drugs, since most of that industry is unregulated.

• One-third of adolescent males were desperate enough to use unhealthy weight control methods while attempting to lose weight.

• The 6 percent of males who were vegetarian were more likely to be involved in unhealthy weight control behaviors.

• Thirty-two percent of males used skipping meals, diet pills, and smoking more cigarettes to lose or control weight.

• Four percent of males reported taking laxatives, diuretics, vomiting after meals, or fasting.

• About 5.4 percent of males reported steroid use. Steroid use was statistically associated with the following: participation in sports that emphasize weight and shape, disordered eating, substance abuse, parental concern about weight, lower self-esteem, more depressed mood, and suicide attempts.

So … how do you know if you have an eating disorder or significant body image issue? Take note of the following list, also noted in our book:

1. Strong, Persistent Drive for Thinness/Desire to “Look” good, attractive, etc.
Left unattended, the desire for thinness clouds judgment … and becomes more important than anything else. The drive consumes your life, isolates you from others, and changes your interest patterns. You feel as if they’ve lost themselves on a quest for thinness and “attractiveness.” Self-esteem plummets.

2. Preoccupation and Fear of Eating and Being Overweight
How much time each day do you spend asking yourself what you should eat, what to do about something you ate, what not to eat, what your body looks like, what to wear, how fat you are, and other such questions? What do you consider a healthy amount of time to think about this topic? Five percent of your time? Twenty percent? Thirty percent? People with eating disorders spend 70, 80, 90 percent, or more, of their time focused on such thoughts. Many professionals now consider eating disorders to be a type of anxiety disorder related to obsessive compulsive disorder.

3. Body Dissatisfaction
Many sufferers are so preoccupied and ashamed of their bodies that they shower with the lights off. Imagine that! For most, the longer they look at a photo of themselves, the more flaws they find. Others can’t find any photos of themselves because they’ve ripped them all up. And then, there’s clothing. How long does it take to choose an outfit to wear? Many people are engaged in an all-out war with their bodies and spiral into an emotional whirlpool of self-hatred.

4. Perfectionism
People with eating disorders tend to be hard on themselves. They beat themselves up over how they look, what they say, and who they are. Perfectionism promotes feeling like an utter failure. Nothing they ever do is good enough and they fail to give themselves credit for anything. They feel worthless … They constantly try to shield themselves by creating a perfect emotional mask, but inside they’re in pain; inside, they’re hiding.

5. Binge-eating
Binge-eating usually develops in dieters and/or food restrictors because their behavior revolves around fighting a big animal: hunger … Many people with eating disorders eat erratically. They alternate between periods of severe restricting and periods when their eating feels out of control.

While creating the book I was struck with a thought: When I’m 65, will I still be preoccupied with what I am eating, how I look and if I am “good enough?” I can’t imagine what that kind of mindset might do to, say, the person I am in a relationship with, let alone me. But then … this leads into another discussion about older gay men and their journey/evolution. How have elder gays adjusted to the changes in their bodies; to the flood of youth-inspired media images? How do they feel—about themselves, their bodies?

More on that … soon. In the meantime, check out The National Association For Males With Eating Disorders. Insightful!

The booksigning for “Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!” the book I cowrote with Dr. Maria Rago, was a success last night at San Francisco’s Books Inc. A good crowd turned out and I was jazzed that I could get the word about the book, its message about body image, obsession with thinness, eating disorders and more.

But something happened about three-quarters of the way in. The energy in the room shifted. I was reading from the chapter dubbed “Shut Up, About Excluding Guys.” At first I thought I was reading too fast but then it sunk in: Perhaps the group was intrigued by what we had written in this chapter—that, when it comes to discussions about body image and eating disorders, men, especially gay men, are rarely brought to the table.

BEEFY ISSUE

Where's the (emotional) beef? Gay men and body image—can we talk?

I thought about all this, too, when, days earlier, I was walking around San Francisco’s Castro district putting up fliers for the book event. Don’t get me wrong—I love me some handsome—but even though I’ve grown accustomed to how much body-building and working out are now a staple in gay culture, I was still surprised by how many men were buff, sporting the body beautiful.

What was this? The Mr. Gay Universe Pageant?

This all came to mind as I read from the book, discussing Kenny and Juan, two gay men including in our book who have battled with their own body image issues. The silence in room suddenly commanded my attention. I looked up and spotted a tall man standing in the back. He appeared as if he’d just left work and he seemed to be listening intently. I found another man seated in the center of the crowd. I didn’t know if he was gay, or what really brought him out to the book talk, but his eyes said it all: “I get it.”

Later that evening, a friend who had been at the booksigning forwarded me an article he found on Gawker dubbed: “The Real Reason Why Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.”

Brilliant, I thought—finally, we’re beginning to talk about this stuff.

And we need to keep talking about—gay and bisexual men are more prone to develop body image issues or eating disorders than straight men.

I can’t help but think of the super trooper of a man who launched N.A.M.E.D., The National Association of Men with Eating Disorders. It’s a delicious hotline and resource directory that points men—both gay and straight—to individuals or treatment centers that can help guide them though their experiences with body image and eating disorders.

In the meantime, Gay Pride month ventures forth. Waving a rainbow flag is divine. Celebrating diversity is necessary. But, I propose we’re hungry for more meaty discussions—something beyond all the underwear parties taking place at local bars.