Illustration by Hannah Robinson

Why we need emancipation from rigid codes of beauty and gender.

The always-hungry beast: the rise of male eating disorders and why we need emancipation from rigid codes of beauty and gender

A male friend of mine recently confessed that he ‘washboards’ his stomach every day- by which he means making himself throw up. His reason? He wants to ‘be thin and clean’. His unexpected admission of bulimia had me flummoxed for a while. I thought that eating disorders are something that affect women, but the recent data shows otherwise. In the last six years, men admitted to hospitals for eating disorders increased by 70%. Medics believe many more cases are being undetected.

There is still much more stigma around eating disorders in men. Common patriarchal narrative tropes like ‘men don’t cry’ are still powerful and force men to conceal what is seen as ‘feminine sickness’. In the era of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns such as “manorexia” reveals the broader crisis of masculinity, wherein more and more men of all ages are engaged in self-destructive behaviour.

One of the ways people became addicted is not gender specific. Fragile self-esteem and low body confidence lead to people seeking unhealthy refuges and nagging for validation from others. The whole dieting market is like a beast which feeds on vanity and insecurity and the whole digital industry is designed to sate it. Both men and women are subjected to enormous amounts of messaging that inform them that they are valued primarily for how they look. There is a dizzying array of weight-loss options on offer, not to mention thousands of hashtags and accounts promoting anorexia and bulimia. The most perilous thing is that society’s common standard encompasses only a very narrow image of beauty. No wonder those who are out of sync feel deeply uncomfortable.

What is most astounding to contemplate is that while people in low-income and war-torn countries like Syria and Yemen straggle to bring basic staples to the table, some people from the so-called developed world are starving themselves to death in order to reach unhealthy and unrealistic sizes. We see this flourishing culture wherein people are rewarded for their ability to restrict and deny themselves. Modern dieting is like a new religion wherein being thin is a mark of control and success.

We need to understand that many of these weight-loss companies are lying to and manipulating us- as well as cashing in on our insecurities. And instead of fitting into the strict templates of masculinity and femininity we should set our own standards of success and beauty. Only then will our self-worth and value no longer be measured by the amount of fat in our waistline. We should stop letting those vanity fairs devour our time, money, and health and allow men and women to be the different shapes and sizes they are most comfortable in. It is long since past the time to slay the beast which holds us in thrall by preying on our insecurities and enforcing rigid and gendered codes of beauty. Such emancipation holds benefits for men as well- feminist goals don’t just help women, they better society as a whole too.