Do men experience body image issues?

Men are four times more likely to remain undiagnosed with body image issues and eating disorders than women.

Ritika Dhaliwal

Body image is an issue of growing concern, especially for teenagers and adolescents. As they move towards becoming independent and establishing their own identity, they are faced with a lot of confusion – they want to be unique and yet be accepted. Body image becomes a very important component of self-esteem in the teenage years.

Interestingly, men believe that the pressure on them to have a certain body type stems from women becoming more selective, the emergence of social media trends and dating apps that focus on images. But a survey on identifying the perceptions of men and women on valuing male appearance, reports that men believe their appearance is more important to women than women report it to be. 

Additionally, there has been an emergence of the male cosmetics industry over the last 10 years. A study conducted by ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of commerce & Industry of India) found that men's grooming industry has increased by 42% in the last five years. Aditya Gaur, a former marketing associate for Brandboys advertising, says, “Cosmetic companies saw a huge opportunity (in products for men). There were men who were using beauty products designed for women. The market had already existed and there was a huge demand. The companies then came up with a wide range of products which men could use.”

Now, with a large number of products ranging from face wash and face cream to moustache wax and beard gels available for men, there is a greater emphasis on how men look and how they are perceived by others.

Body image issues and eating disorders are considered a disorder affecting mostly women. However, a study showed that men are four times more likely to remain undiagnosed with body image issues and eating disorders than women, proving that it affects both genders equally.

“In the past men were not under as much social pressure to maintain a specific body type as much as women were pressured to be thin. Consequently, most studies done in the area of eating disorders and body image were done on women. The scales and tools were also formulated keeping women in mind. Today, with the growth of the media and the fitness industry, men feel the same pressure as women. In this sense, conflicting ideas are thrown at them. While they have to maintain an image of not being conscious of their bodies as subscribers of masculinity, they are also affected by the need to maintain one because of the media boost,” says Bangalore-based psychologist, Paras Sharma.

However, it is important to note that in the case of women, the ideal of thinness is somewhat global. All women want to be thin and lose weight, while in the case of men, it is more complicated. The emphasis is not on losing weight but on having an athletic, lean and muscular body, with long agile legs and a narrow waist.

A study conducted by Dr Prabha Chandra, NIMHANS, found that out of a total of 75 cases of eating disorders reported in a year, only two of them were male cases. Interestingly, they also fell into the category of Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). So while men do suffer from body image issues as well as eating disorders, they are not reported as frequently as they are among women.

According to Alliance of Eating Disorders Awareness, a US based non-profit, about 2.4 to 3.5 million men suffer from eating disorders of different kinds, with about 20% of people with anorexia dying due to the disorder. Thus, it is a very grave and serious issue which needs more attention.

Just as more men are coming out and speaking about depression and anxiety, they also need to speak about body image issues and eating disorders they may be going through to ensure a healthy quality of life.

References:

Strother E, Lemberg R, Stanford SC and Turberville D. “Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood.” Eating Disorders. Oct 2012; 20(5);346-355.