When we think of individuals obsessed with body image, we often associate them with women. However, men are increasingly being diagnosed with dysmorphia. Sufferers of this mental illness are fixated on perceived imperfections of their physical appearance.
Body dysmorphic disorder is categorized as a chronic mental illness and affects every living minute of a person’s life. Sufferers cannot get through the day without obsessing over their body and how they look and are so ashamed of their bodies, they fear being seen by anyone. Sufferers will go to great lengths to change their bodies like bodybuilding and taking protein supplements in excess or even steroids to gain muscle mass, and spend countless hours and thousands of dollars on gym memberships and equipment to achieve that much-admired six pack. Some seek cosmetic surgery to correct flaws they perceive as ugly and most will undergo painful procedures to remove ‘unsightly’ body hair to achieve that smooth, hairless, airbrushed ideal of the Hollywood physique.
There has been a much stronger link between advertising and a particular glorification of the male physique in recent years – National Eating Disorder Information Centre.
Men are bombarded by images of the ideal Herculean physique that is portrayed in the media as the only body type that will attract a mate. Trying to achieve this image becomes an exercise in futility and often leads to eating disorders as well. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and other eating disorders are affecting more and more Canadian men, much to the surprise of doctors.
Dr. Blake Woodside, who runs the eating disorder program for Toronto General Hospital, reports that in recent community-based studies, “one case in three of anorexia nervosa is a male. For bulimia, it is about one in four.”
Because eating disorders are considered a female problem, most men isolate themselves from seeking help for fear of being judged as effeminate and often arrive for treatment in a severe state.
“For men there is still such a stigma attached to the idea of having an eating disorder and reaching out for help,” said Joanna Anderson, clinical director at Sheena’s Place in Toronto. “If you go for treatment and you’re in a group with 10 or 12 women and you’re the only man, it’s very difficult to feel like you’re not different.”
We live in a society where if you are not young, thin and muscular, and have the perfect partner, you cannot possibly be happy or successful. What we have created is a culture of perpetual disapproval and disappointment. Our focus needs to be more on what we can do to stay healthy and celebrate our diverse body shapes and individuality. Learn to follow a healthy lifestyle by using Canada’s Food Guide and Health Canada’s Activity Guide, and contact your Employee and Family Assistance Program to get the right care and professional guidance to help you adopt a positive attitude towards body image.