“Lonely, lost, broken, ashamed, hopeless, desolate, driven, and cursed”, “not recognised”, “Macho failure”, “scaredy little boy afraid of fry-ups” and “freakish”, suffering in silence, shameful, “Under-represented, under-researched and under-supported”, “forgotten”, “stigma”, “unheard of”, “overlooked”… those are just some of the responses I recieved from Twitterers and Facebookers when I asked the question ‘What do you think of first when considering males with Eating Disorders’. The answers are mixed; some are from males, some females; some with experience of Eating Disorders and some without. I really wish (and most likely sometime soon will) to spend more time researching the general public’s opinion of Eating Disorders in males, to further explore the stereotypes that exist and to try and tackle some of those. The response I got will no doubt be scewed, as many who replied know me and therefore (because I never keep my mouth shut about all things Eating Disorder-ey), will know more than the average person about the truths behind the myths – but even taking that into consideration, I found that there is a certain uneasiness when faced with males with eating Disorders.
“When i saw my first ‘male anorexic’ in hospital I got a shock. The only way i could describe it was ’sad’. I know that sounds daft, but with the majority of sufferers being female, you know what to expect looking at them. But to see a guy in that fragile state upset me more than looking at myself.” – Anon
One thing that predictably came up again and again though, was that there is a worrying lack of awareness and of understanding, that illnesses such and Anorexia and Bulimia are associated so strongly with women that too many people simply cannot comprehend the thought of a male suffering from an Eating Disorder. What is frightening about this is that this stigma is so widespread that the majority of males who are ill feel that they cannot speak out or reach for help – they may fear that they will not be taken seriously, that they are not as deserving of treatment or that they should do the strong, masculine thing and ‘get over it’. Not possible, never possible. Research shows (although not nearly enough has been done yet), that there is a greater sense of shame amongst males with Eating Disorders than there is with females. As a female who felt enormous amounts of shame and crippling guilt, I cannot imagine how intense and difficult it must feel to be a male sufferer of what is far too often perceived as a women’s illness. For this reason, I am not even going to include any statistics – I know for sure that there will be so many men and boys out there suffering from an Eating Disorder in silence, too scared to let others know their secret, their ‘weakness’. The numbers will be far higher than those estimated – and that is why this is such a massive problem.