By Miranda Daschian
Daschian is a student-athlete at Cal Poly - SLO majoring in Psychology with a minor in Ethnic Studies. She aspires to work with athletes struggling with eating disorders and promote body positivity to those competing in adolescence and beyond.
Imagine a young student who has recently begun high school. Freshman year, full of
opportunity...and a vast amount of awkwardness and hormones. This student, now
surrounded by peers years older and influences from the world of adulthood, begins to
feel pressure. This pressure is on the appearance of their body. They begin checking
mirrors more often, analyzing their face for any ominous pimples, poking and prodding
at their stomach and arms. Mom and Dad notice their once carefree child is now highly
selective at meals and has been frequently skipping homework and assignments to go on
runs or to the neighborhood gym. Weeks pass, and yet these behaviors only increase.
The student’s body is now changing noticeably, and yet they still don’t feel good enough.
Based on this, what gender do you believe the student is?
If you said girl, you may be one of many who thinks of eating disorders as a cis-gender
female-specific issue. While the problem may effect more females than males to this
day, the rates of disordered eating traits and diagnoses in males is on the rise...and at
alarming rates. According to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) around 10
million males in the United States alone will experience disordered eating symptoms,
and rates of sub-clinical eating disorder behaviors are almost as common in males as
females. These rates may even be higher when stigmatization of males with these issues
is taken into account, causing many to suffer in silence.
So if all genders are susceptible, why do we so rarely hear about one of the populations
at risk? Many aspects of masculinity in our culture involve reluctance to be open or
acknowledge illness or weakness. “Just tough it out”, “don’t be a sissy”...all push males
to put their heads down and ignore things that may be going wrong in their lives. This
masculine stereotype not only tells someone how to process their emotions but also goes
as far as to push them into certain physical portrayals of how a “real man” should look.
If you need examples of this, google “dorito body” or “superhero body” and you will see
an endless array of muscular males (in various degree of dress) who we all know don’t
just naturally look that way. Photoshopped and posed images rule the internet and are
presumed to be the ideal, circulated broadly across social media and the internet. We
have assumed a type of sexualized and polished beauty to be superb, yet the influence of
this type of imagery is toxic and can be seen in rates of disordered eating increasing
among the spectrum of gender.
The biggest impact on eating disorders across the board can be made by changing
aspects of our culture. Sound easy? Not likely, but steps are being made slowly. Breaking
down gender roles and body image stereotypes will allow more individuals to develop a
sense of self separate from how they or others view their body. Individuals who identify
as male that deviate from a traditional “built” frame or masculine features won’t feel
devalued or shamed, and students like the hypothetical one I mentioned earlier will base
their self-worth on aspects other than their bodies. Self-love or body positivity
campaigns in groups as young as elementary school can promote the ideal that one
should love their body for what it is and the purpose it serves. Families can take new
approaches to how meals are introduced in the household, emphasizing less on any
critiquing and more on the energy and sustenance gained from these meals. And more
than anything, future generations should be taught that every body is different, but
every body holds worth.
Libby is a non-diet Registered Dietitian focusing on eating disorder treatment and prevention. She approaches health from the inclusive standpoint that any "body" can focus on health regardless of size. She is a ally in diversity.
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