Expert warns of a rise in men with body image concerns which can develop into eating disorders
• Body image issues on the rise in men, says Priory psychiatrist
• She says the changing expectations of men in society can exert “extra pressure”
• Men with poor self-image could become fixated on the media ‘ideal’ of being lean and muscular
• A video case study explores the recovery of a male patient
Body image issues among men are on the rise, according to a Priory expert – and this can develop into a serious eating disorder.
Speaking as Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May) focuses on the issue of body image, Dr Lorna Richards of Priory’s Woking Hospital, said men often felt worse today about the way they looked than they did in the 1970s and 1980s.
Many struggled with their appearance – and similar to women, research showed men were often caught between feeling either too thin or too heavy.
They felt they couldn’t match up to an ideal, and their lack of confidence socially compounded their own criticism of their appearance. Poor body image was often linked to dieting, over-exercising, or eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, and to other mental health issues such as low self-esteem, depression or anxiety.
Dr Richards said it often resulted from men comparing their body with what the media suggested was the ideal male body size and shape – namely, lean and muscular. It was not uncommon for men with body dissatisfaction to be focused on weight change and muscle building, which could lead to over-exercising and the use of image enhancing drugs.
A study by the University of the West of England found that almost 30% of men think about their appearance at least five times a day.(i) Yet research by Psychology Today reported that women are less concerned about a man’s body image than men perceived them to be. (ii)
Dr Richards said some men were frequently attending the gym to radically change their bodies, and the media had its part to play in fuelling a desire to pack on muscle and resemble cinema “superheroes”.
She also said that cultural shifts “such as a changing of gender roles” were also putting pressure on some men, such that they became confused about society’s expectations of them.
Historically ten times as many females as males developed an eating disorder. However, recent studies have shown the gap has narrowed and it is now thought that as many as 25% of those with an eating disorder may be male, although many go unreported.(iii) Dr Richards said: “I am certainly seeing more male patients. I believe many others simply aren’t being diagnosed or receiving the support they require.”
Callum Orr, a former patient at Priory’s Lifeworks Hospital, now 28 years old, talks about his own body image issues here, in a case study. Callum said he had always suffered from a lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem, but he says getting dental braces worsened his anxiety and eventually his negative feelings towards himself “tipped him over the edge”.
His deep insecurity manifested itself in him losing half his body weight.
As his symptoms worsened, and he didn’t receive the right support. Callum eventually reached out to his parents and decided that inpatient treatment was necessary.
Callum received treatment at Priory Lifeworks. He explained how his “life changing” treatment put him on a course to recovery.
Dr Richards said it was important to seek help early. She recommends that loved ones should take a “proactive” approach in trying to encourage them to access treatment.
She says that men who reach out don’t always receive the right treatment. If someone receives treatment that isn’t helpful, Dr Richards says they “shouldn’t be put off” but “try again”. Early treatment is paramount in preventing an eating disorder, for example, from becoming more severe.
i ‘The rise of male body image issues and how the media is complicit’, Ask Men, https://me.askmen.com/inspiration/1100981/article/the-rise-of-male-body-image-issues-and-how-the-media-iscomplicit
ii ‘Body image men’, Mirror Mirror, https://www.mirror-mirror.org/body-image-men.htm iii Eating disorder statistics’, BEAT, https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorderstatistics
iii Eating disorder statistics’, BEAT, https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorderstatistics
- Major ECR-funded project to unlock secrets of ageing well - 28th November 2022
- Championing building ventilation - 28th November 2022
- Positive social-emotional schools boost mental health - 28th November 2022