Sometimes wearing skinny jeans isn't cool.
Twenty percent of people suffering from anorexia are men. Less than a decade ago, clinicians believed that one in twenty men were anorexic. More and more men are being diagnosed for starving themselves in pursuit of physical perfection. Male anorexics have a lot in common with women who suffer from the same debilitating illness, but there's one major difference: for most men, there is no help on the way.
GQ's Nathaniel Penn covered this deep issue recently. Penn takes the reader through several first-hand accounts of men wrestling with anorexia. Honestly, it's not an easy read. When asked on Twitter about what it was like to conduct the interviews, Penn described them as, "tough: these likable, gifted guys are so filled with self-loathing."
I stumbled upon it right before going to dinner. Let's just say I didn't have the usual pleasant mealtime. Instead, I felt uneasy and couldn't help but look around the room with concern, heartbroken for anyone struggling with anorexia.
Our culture values a lean, muscular male physique in advertising, movies, and magazines. Men like Brad Pitt and David Beckham have changed the way we view the male body.
A male anorexic tends to conform to a particular personality type: "anxious, obsessive, persevering, and perfectionistic," according to Arnold Andersen of the University of Iowa. He is desperate to please and hypersensitive to rejection and humiliation. The illness typically takes root during adolescence. It is almost never the first, or only, way he tries to deal with social, sexual, or academic anxiety—he may also use drugs, cut himself, or have OCD. A young man faces a heightened risk if he was overweight in grade school and teased for it, if obesity or eating disorders run in his family, if he participates in a sport that emphasizes speed or weight control (such as wrestling, distance running, or cycling), or if he's gay, as are an estimated 18 percent of male anorexics.
As Mr. Penn’s article points out, anorexia is continually causing more deaths and is drastically affecting men more so than women:
“Anorexia has the highest mortality rate, between 5 and 10 percent, of any mental illness. Half of the deaths are by suicide, the other half from medical complications. The illness lasts an average of eight years in men, a third longer than in females, probably because men wait longer to seek treatment. Twenty percent of recovered anorexics die before reaching their life expectancy.”
If guys build up enough courage to ask for help, many of the treatment centers won't even take them. Anorexia is viewed as a female disease.
So, what can be done to help them? I agree with the GQ article, but one vital solution is missing: the transforming power of Christianity. This does not mean that if someone comes up to you and says, "I'm struggling with anorexia," that you should recite John 3:16 to them. Just like Jesus first met the earthly needs, he then met their spiritual needs.
At the very least, let struggling individuals know that they are a part of something bigger. They are loved in a powerful and real way. Even if they don't accept it, God will continue His pursuit to heal them.
But something keeps you coming back here to get help. What is it?
It's my God. It's God. Because I know deep at my core, and I may not be able to live it out right now, and I may not be able to grasp it, but I know that love is there. I know that...and there's no reason I should be alive. There's no scientific reason that my body should still be functioning. I have been at death's door way too many times. Something's there.
What would this situation look like if we started truly embracing Christianity in our culture? At the very least, it would give people their dignity. And as cliché as it sounds, let those around you know how much you love them for who they are, not for who they can be.
Our culture should start embracing this message if we want to see manorexia disappear for good: