Archive for the tag - eating disorders

Straight Skinny, But Gay Fat.

straight skinny gay fatHere’s something you’ve probably heard: Someone referred to as “straight skinny but gay fat.”

This statement, of course, refers to the differing standards in appearance for straight and gay men. In other words, a few extra pounds on a straight guy isn’t a big deal. But in the gay world, it’s a different story altogether.

Now here’s something you probably haven’t heard: Among men who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay.

When we hear the term “gay fat” in reference to the double standard in body image, the tendency is to laugh. It’s often used as a punch line. But I’m not laughing. Maybe the idea of “gay fat” wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t killing people.

Here’s something else you probably haven’t heard: Without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, that number is still 2% – 3%. Eating disorders are deadly.

Eating disorders are a real problem in our community, and we’re dismissing it as a joke.

As I’ve mentioned, I was anorexic in middle school. Growing up overweight, I tried to take control of my situation by starving myself. It was easy to outsmart the doctors when they asked about my weight loss, and even easier to deceive my own family. In fact, to this day, my mother refuses to acknowledge my eating disorder.

The reality is, it’s not easy to talk about eating disorders. And that’s especially true for men. In a world that sees eating disorders as a problem for teenage girls trying to fit into prom dresses, it’s all of our jobs to decrease the stigma and be constructive with our words and actions.

When someone is referred to as straight skinny but gay fat, I’m not laughing. Because what I really hear in that statement is the struggle that all gay men have of looking in the mirror and seeing someone they love. And to me, that’s not a joke. And if it is, it’s a punchline that some of us are paying for with our lives.

 

Why Gay Men Hate Their Bodies.

As a gay man and as a personal trainer, the issue of gay men hating their bodies is one that strikes close to home. And as someone who struggled with anorexia for years while growing up, this issue is personal.

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about why gay men hate their bodies more than straight guys, lesbians or even straight women. But I don’t think anyone is getting it right – so I decided to weigh in on the issue of gay men and body image.

Here’s why (I think) gay men hate their bodies so much.

Skinny is Overrated.

Where's the beef?

If you pick up an issue of Vogue or Cosmo, you’ll instantly be bombarded with images of stick-thin models – many of whom are photoshopped beyond recognition. The message behind these images is pretty clear: Skinny is attractive.

When this message is internalized, it is expressed through unhealthy fad diets and eating disorders in both women and men. I, for example, spent the better part of my middle school years obsessively counting calories and living with anorexia. I wanted to be attractive, and so skinny was my goal.

The other day, I came across a shocking piece of data. When it comes to adult video content, the volume of searches for overweight women are four times greater than the volume of searches for their skinnier counterparts. In other words, there may a disconnect between what people actually desire and what we think people desire.

While it’s easy to read too much into a single piece of data, it can help us rethink the notion that skinny is the only form of sexy. Curves are beautiful, too – and, according to the data, there are a lot of people that would agree.

Rather than spend our energy transforming our bodies for the desires someone else, perhaps it’s wiser to transform our bodies for the benefit ourselves. Indeed, eating nourishing foods and honoring your body with exercise and movement will change the way that you look, but it will also improve the quality and length of your life. You may even be able to use the experience, as I have, to build a stronger and more loving relationship with your body.

Today, my goal isn’t skinny… it’s healthy. It’s less about looking a certain way and more about living a certain way.

Why Gay Men Are 3X More Likely to Have Eating Disorders.

As a gay boy going through middle school, I struggled with anorexia. I was overweight in elementary school, and became fixated on changing things. I counted every calorie that I consumed until I was sickly thin, pale and extremely unhealthy.

I remember growing four or five inches in one year, and losing five pounds. The doctor asked me if I was eating enough. I lied, and he believed me. Boys can get away with it.

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. A study by the Mailman School of Public Health and the National Development and Research Institutes found that eating disorders – including symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating – are three times more common in gay men than heterosexual men. Some 15% of gay men reported eating disorders.

Why?

I’ll be honest – my immediate thought was that it’s because of gay culture. We (well, to be fair, not all of us) worship the insanely chiseled bodies of impossibly sculpted models. And by we, I include myself. The pictures that I use in this blog certainly contribute to that. If eating disorders are higher in gay men because of our body-centered focus, then I am a participant of that.

But not so fast, according the study. One of the researchers wrote:

It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders. One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.

To test the theory, researchers compared gay men with affiliation to the gay community (i.e., frequent gay clubs, gay gyms, etc.) to those that are far removed. There was no difference in eating disorder rates, and so researchers were left scratching their heads:

This suggests that factors other than values and norms in the gay community are related to the higher rates of eating disorder among these men

I have my own theory, but it’s not mentioned in the study. Gay men are often the targets of bullying and discrimination (some of it institutionalized). We’re are often disowned by family members, and told that we’ll burn in hell. We’re the butt of jokes, and too often the victims of hate crimes. We are even denied basic rights by our government, and treated as second-class citizens.

We are told that we are “less than” time and time again. Perhaps, eventually… some of us come to believe that it is true. And this lack of love for ourselves can manifest in very physical ways – like in eating disorders.

That’s my theory. What is yours?