Ginger Emas at ShareWIK.com has written an interesting piece about men and eating disorders. It piqued my interest because a friend of mine once asked me if she should be concerned about her son’s eating habits. He counted calories, stayed away from sweets, and was a tad obsessive about a healthy diet. I told her not to sweat it, buying into the cultural myth that boys don’t get eating disorders. Now I know they do. To get to Ginger’s original article on ShareWIK, click here. I have reprinted it with permission below.
Usually when we talk about body image issues, we’re talking about girls. But did you know that more than one million boys and men struggle with eating disorders? More than 80% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. More than 10% of middle school boys have used steroids. These are boys who don’t understand why they should brush their teeth every night; how can they possibly understand the repercussions of starving or using steroids?
Studies today suggest that body image is deeply affected by the media – television shows and movies that show buff, brawny young men and the sexy, slim women who love them. And in fact, my own son – who at 15 is tall and thin – can often be found facing the mirror sideways, and sighing over the fact that his stomach is not completely flat. What he sees is the 10-year-old version of himself, when his one chin became two and he had to wear uniform pants marked “Husky.” (What marketing genius thought that “Husky” would be a good retail term?”) This was the year that his friends at school teased him about needing a “man-bra.” But no one needed to tease him; my son was his own worst critic. Except, perhaps, for me.
I remember being concerned about my son’s weight because his paternal grandfather and uncle were obese. My own mother lost 50 pounds more than 40 years ago, but today, at 5′ 4″ and 100 pounds, she looks in the mirror and sees the girl they used to call, “Fat Ferne.” I’ve heard her stories of torment and Hershey bars all of my life; I’ve heard how her voice changes when she talks about someone who has gained weight or “looks heavy.”
But it was more than genetic concern; I knew that society treated heavy people differently, and on some level, I wanted to protect my son. Maybe even from my mother. Maybe even from me. Gently, I encouraged my son to eat healthy and go outside and play. If you ask my son now, he’ll tell you that every time I said, “no French fries today” he heard, “you’re fat.” Every time I said, “You need to play one sport each season” he heard, “you’re overweight.” I wish that I had had a crystal ball; that I had not come from fear of obesity but rather from the joy of being healthy. Because you know what? Many of my friends who are overweight have healthier body images and self-esteem than my thin, gym-obsessed friends. My son’s own uncle, the one I mentioned earlier? While it’s true he is often losing weight to help his knees or hips, he is one of the funniest, most brilliant, most generous people I know. He is an excellent father and has a loving wife and family. If he wants to be healthier, fine; it’s not because he has a body image issue, I can tell you that.
While I believe the media does influence our kids, I also believe that friends and family are even greater influences. Back when I was a young teen — and there were only three television stations and one Teen magazine – I had friends who took daily laxatives, starved themselves until dinner time, and constantly complained about how fat they were. None of them was actually overweight – at all. They were the prettiest girls – cheerleaders and homecoming queens and dance squad captains. It seemed like something they did for attention, or to emulate their older sisters and mothers. Until one day, the prettiest of them all, couldn’t get out of bed due to a combination of exhaustion and anxiety.
I never dieted as a young girl. In fact, at 11 years old, I can tell you exactly what I had for lunch every Saturday, because I ate at the pool club behind my house: French fries and a chocolate shake. But I do remember wishing, as I pulled on my bellbottom jeans, that my stomach was flatter (and also that my hair was straighter and my skin less freckle-y). Look at the picture (I am second from the left) — how could I possible think I wasn’t thin? (Let’s not talk about the hair and freckles.)
My point is, we spend so much time thinking we don’t measure up that we miss our own beauty, our own strengths. When I was 16, I was having dinner with my older brother’s friends, when one of them — a boy named Mark who was blonde, beautiful, smart – was talking about his girlfriend. “She has a small belly roll – it’s so sexy,” he said.
I have never forgotten that. It reminds me that men and women find all kinds of things attractive. One thing that’s not? Complaining about our own perceived flaws. I interviewed dozens of men for my book (www.backontopthebook.com) and the theme that kept coming through is that a confident woman is attractive, but a beautiful woman who is insecure is a drag. So that wrinkle between our eyebrows? Your man doesn’t see it. The way you think your butt sags? Your man is watching the way it moves when you walk. In fact, I read an article just a few years ago, and I’ve surveyed half the men I know to see if it’s true. They tell me it sums up the male mentality perfectly:
When a man and woman are getting undressed, ready to tuck into bed together, the woman is thinking, “Damn, my stomach looks big. My butt is flabby. My breasts are so flat.” Meanwhile, the man is thinking, “Yay! She’s naked!”
Next time you start to dis the reflection in the mirror, remember: we are our own worst critics. It’s time we just started saying, “Yay!”