The risks with disregarding males in the body positivity movement


It must be nice to be a guy. Boys can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, and boys can eat a lot.

That’s the stereotype, and in many cases, that’s also a true statement. However, overlooking and disregarding eating disorders, over-exercising, or body dysmorphia amongst males is a deleterious form of gender bias—something we as a society choose to ignore. If he’s insecure, he’s less of a man, right?

About one in three people fighting through any form of an eating disorder is a male (Men, 2017). Despite what we may believe due to cultural bias, eating disorders are not a girl-only problem. In fact, they have recently become more of a boy-related problem as so few feel comfortable seeking out treatment.

Men seeking treatment, therapy, or psychological help is digested by society as feminine or, some might even say, gay—the epitome of a double standard.

Imagine a male teacher having an affair with a female student; he’s twenty-three years old, she’s sixteen—disgusting and reprehensible, right? Now, imagine the teacher is a female and the student is a young male. Did that change your level of disgust toward the situation? Was it less offensive?

It’s because we are conditioned to view males as sexually preoccupied and “ready for anything” at a young age.

The idea or thought that all boys wake up in the morning and think “good enough” is naive.

 A teacher interviewed by The Guardian, Matt Pinkett, said he experienced this exact gender bias a few years into his teaching career while conversing about a poem with a female colleague. She claimed that the way he viewed it was down to the fact that, because he’s a man, he thought entirely of sex. “’It was acceptable sexism because it was directed at a man, not a woman, Pinkett said'” (Moorhead, 2019). 

“’There’s a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that plays into a narrative that says boys produce more testosterone and that’s why they fight and punch, that’s why they don’t sit quietly in lessons, that’s why they’re harder to control, that’s why we have different expectations about what they can do,’ Pinkett continued”(Moorhead, 2019). This “boys will be boys” remark is used to account for childlike behavior amongst males. Testosterone cannot be used to justify poor behavior. In reality, the hormone system is much more complex; for every study that connects bad behavior to testosterone levels, there’s another, Pinkett said, that suggests it’s more about the environment than biology (Moorhead, 2019).

In regards to appearance, essentially the brain of a boy, and that of a girl, show no differences (girls are pretty, but boys are strong is a narrative reiterated by She Maps, n.d.). However, even young children have been victims of gender stereotyping. Girls are lacking in confidence, facing detrimental health effects by what the mirror reflects. Boys, in turn, lack the ability to express their emotions.

“Boys seem to have been largely left out of the conversation about gender equality. Even as girls’ options have opened up, boys’ lives are still constricted by traditional gender norms: being strong, athletic and stoic,” (“Many Ways to Be a Girl, but One Way to Be a Boy: The New Gender Rules,” 2018).

Eating disorders do not discriminate. It’s simple. No gender is “too strong” nor “too masculine” for body dysmorphia. Eating disorders are often seen as a woman-specific issue. New research, however, shows that male eating disorders are on the rise (Boys with Eating Disorders May Face Greater Risk of Suicide, 2016). 

Because of current and traditional gender norms, boys feel keeping health-related issues to themselves is needed due to the humiliation society brings if they are seeking treatment. In the long run, this means that many male teens and adolescents may face a greater risk of suicide as well. Compared to the general population, suicide rates are much higher among young people with eating disorders.

It’s as though society waits until death to take action.

Boys are so under-acknowledged in the body positivity movement. The idea or thought that all boys wake up in the morning and think “good enough” is naive. It’s become so normalized for men to show no insecurities or emotions. 

Eating disorders, psychological issues, and the need for therapy or treatment are not demasculinizing; it’s human. 

Expressing vulnerability is strength. Normalize it.