There is a silent struggle happening among gay men. A struggle that is not often talked about or acknowledged. This struggle is with eating disorders. Gay men are 2-3 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than heterosexual men, and yet this fact remains largely hidden from the public eye. The root of these eating disorders can be traced back to issues such as objectification and body image insecurity. In this blog post, we will explore these issues in more depth and discuss what we can do to help those who are struggling.
Typically, when we think about body-image and eating disorders we think of it as solely a women's issue. However, this is not the case. Women outnumber men in the percentage of those who are diagnosed with an eating disorder. This does not mean that men are unlikely to develop an eating disorder or have issues with their body-image. Additionally, it is important to consider the possibility that more men experience eating disorders than the number that is reported. It is possible that more men go undiagnosed due to more stigma associated with seeking therapy as a man. This stigma of men seeking therapy is rooted in toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is the idea that men should be tough and not show any emotion. This is an incredibly harmful mindset that perpetuates men's issues such as issues with body image and eating disorders.
Body-satisfaction in men differs from the body-satisfaction and body ideals of women. Standards of beauty and body ideals for women center around thinness. Whereas body ideals for men emphasize muscularity rather than thinness. But group differences in body images and eating disorders exist between men. Specifically, concerning gay men. Gay men on average experience more body dissatisfaction and are more likely to develop eating disorders than heterosexual men (Levant, 2017). It is essential that we unpack why this may be the case.
One of the explanations for why gay men might experience more body dissatisfaction than heterosexual men is due to objectification. Objectification is the act of treating someone as an object or a commodity. It happens when someone is seen as an object for another person's pleasure or satisfaction rather than as a human being with their own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Gay men are more likely to experience objectification than heterosexual men (Levant, 2017). One main proponent of the objectification of gay men is the media. The media targeted to gay men places a strong emphasis on muscularity and thinness. This emphasis can lead to gay men feeling like they need to fit into this mold in order to be considered attractive or worthy. Additionally, the media geared towards gay men often hyper-sexualizes their bodies and turns them into a commodity for consumption (Lanzieri & Hildebrand, 2015). This can lead to gay men feeling like their worth is based on their sexual appeal and not on any other aspect of themselves. In one study, nearly 60% of gay men reported that they had gone on a diet to lose weight and almost 50% said that they would consider going on a diet to improve their appearance (Levant, 2017). This is likely due to the pressure that gay men feel to meet the unrealistic standards set by the media.
Media representation additionally affects dating patterns and behaviors in gay men as well as feelings of self-confidence with dating. When asked about their experiences with dating, gay men reported feeling less confident and more anxious than heterosexual men (Levant, 2017). This could be due to the fact that gay men are often objectified and seen as nothing more than a sexual conquest. This objectification can lead to gay men feeling like they are not good enough or worthy of love.
The objectification that gay men experience can lead to harmful consequences such as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and depression. It is essential that we start having more open conversations about these issues so that we can help those who are struggling. We need to break the stigma around seeking therapy and create safe spaces for men to openly discuss their feelings and experiences. Only then will we be able to truly help those who are silently struggling.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out for help. Here at Cultured Space we have therapists who are competent and equipped to help sexual minority men in receiving the culturally competent treatment they deserve.
Lanzieri, N., & Hildebrandt, T. (2015). Using objectification theory to examine the effects of media on gay male body image. Clinical Social Work Journal, 44(1), 105–113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-015-0562-1
Levant, R. F., & Wong, Y. J. (2017). The psychology of men and masculinities. American Psychological Association.