Body image issues are often ignored in men — leading to devastating consequences

Alex Lasker

Since body image issues are typically perceived as solely affecting women, their impact on men can be largely overlooked, even by men who may be struggling to cope with them every day.

And this oversight can have deadly consequences.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, men represent 25 percent of individuals in the United States with anorexia nervosa. Men are also at a higher risk of dying from the condition than women, in part because they are often diagnosed later on in the disease’s progression since many people assume men don’t struggle with eating disorders.

Mirasol Eating Disorders Recovery Centers reports that roughly 25 million men and 43 million women are dieting to lose weight at any given point in time. The center adds that 35 percent of these “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.

Body dissatisfaction has also led male patients to go under the knife, with men receiving over 1.3 million cosmetic surgical procedures in the U.S. in 2018 alone, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. That number is up a whopping 29 percent from the year 2000.

‘Social media has … poured gasoline on the fire’

Dr. Rady Rahban, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Calif., told In The Know that this uptick likely has to do with a sharp increase in the depictions of idealized male figures that men are constantly bombarded with across multimedia.

“When you look at a billboard or a magazine, you tend to see a lot of beautiful women,” Dr. Rahban said. “And now, you see a lot more men, particularly in the age of social media.”

“I think what social media has done — and Instagram, and TV and influencers — is taken an existing problem and poured gasoline on the fire,” he added. “And it just erupted it. And now [body image issues] are affecting younger people, where before maybe [they] affected you when you were in your 20s or early-late teens. Now, it’s affecting you when you’re 12.”

These media depictions can be particularly harmful, Dr. Rahban explains, because they portray a fallacy that men — and women — latch onto and try to emulate.

“You’re constantly being bombarded by images,” he said. “Those images are of perfect people. And those perfect people are nonexistent. They’re people who have no acne. They’re people who have no wrinkles. They’re all Photoshopped, photo morphed. They’re all Facetuned. They all have filters.”

“It’s one thing to look at something that really exists and say you wish or strive for it,” he added. “It’s another thing to look at something that doesn’t even exist and to wish and strive for it. So these images have just exponentially changed the way we perceive ourselves.”

‘Ashamed to talk about it’

Aaron Sternlicht, a therapist and addiction specialist in New York, N.Y., told In The Know that even though men develop body image issues in a similar manner to women, they may experience them differently due to social pressures placed on them to appear “manly” and not seek help from professionals or their peers.

“In general, men are much more closed than females, and this has to do with masculinity and what boys are taught from a very young age,” Sternlicht said. “‘Boys don’t cry. Men are tough. Men don’t show emotions.’ Because of that, as men grow up, they tend to be a little bit more closed, a little bit less vulnerable. Oftentimes, men are not as open with their emotions, and that includes body image. They’re more ashamed to talk about it.”

To help struggling men combat this mentality and, hopefully, allow them to seek out the help they need to overcome body image issues, Sternlicht says the first step is always awareness.

“The person needs to be aware that they have this problem because sometimes people don’t like their bodies, but they’re not necessarily preoccupied with their body,” he explained. “They might always be stressed, but not really knowing why, so the first step is awareness.”

The next step, according to Sternlicht, is simply being honest about the issue at hand, including how it’s “negatively impacting their lives.”

“Then, they have to be willing to do something about it,” he said. “That might mean getting professional help or reading self-help books or doing something to improve their life. I always say the next step is really changing their belief system because oftentimes, men with body image issues have this belief system that they’re never going to like their body. They’re always going to hate how they look. So you have to have a belief that you can accept yourself, you can maybe love yourself.”

“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” he added. “Sometimes it means faking it until you make it, maybe repeating certain mantras to yourself even if you don’t really believe it. Whatever works for you, but start saying that on a daily basis. And over time, you will begin to open up your mind to the belief that you can recover.”

If you liked this post, check out more of our content surrounding body acceptance.

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