Women's – especially young girls' – poor body image and the psychological, physical and overall quality of life issues to which it can lead have been the subject of numerous studies. Even the phenomenon of internet “fat shaming” has been endlessly parsed.
But now, out of Australia, comes the first close look at how men unsatisfied with their body image are coping.
The answer is “quite poorly.”
This research suggests males unsatisfied with their body image may be at high risk not only of extreme dieting and purging but are also disproportionately likely to suffer quality of life issues such as depression - partly as a result of perceptions of how men should look in terms of muscle tone and height. The problems are made worse by stigma associated with males suffering from what tends to be seen as a female problem.
According to Dr. Scott Griffiths, lead researcher, "Although our data suggests that, overall, the burden of body dissatisfaction is borne disproportionately by females, males with body dissatisfaction may be a particularly high-risk group. The additional stigma towards men is that they are less masculine by virtue of suffering from a stereotypically female problem. In addition, men report feeling less worthy if they need to ask for help, and this has been associated, in our research, with an increased likelihood of men with eating disorders remaining undiagnosed (4 times more likely in our study)"
Eating disorders impact the lives of 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States. Anorexia is now diagnosed in boys as young as eight and a full 40 percent of those with binge-eating disorders are male. But it is only recently that men are coming out of the shadows looking for help. This may be because there is more awareness and therefore they are more likely to come forward for treatment than previously. However, these figures are still the tip of the iceberg. Early intervention is crucial. The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.
Given that there is still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around eating disorders in general, men in particular can find it difficult to seek help - often finding it more difficult to discuss their feelings, their health and (if applicable) issues around sexuality. Doctors are less likely to diagnose the illness in males and specialist treatment is often geared around females.