Archive for the ‘Body Image Disorder’ Category

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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.”

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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?

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.