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Body Image: Eating Disorders in Gay Men

eatingdisorderIt is a common perspective that only women or girls get anorexia or bulimia, but that is not true. Men are also affected by it, especially gay men. In fact, 30% of men are affected by anorexia and bulimia, and 40% of men have performed binge eating according to the New York Times. Dr. Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science, states that gay men are more prone to eating disorders than heterosexual men. It is not a result of wanting to look feminine, a common heterosexual stereotype of the gay community, but due to wanting to look pleasing to his partner and trying to look a particular way. These men may have also been victims of sexual or physical abuse in the past.

Kathryn Zerbe, M.D.

Kathryn Zerbe, M.D.

Possible other reasons for an eating disorder may be that they suffer from body image conflicts, compulsive exercise, weight obsession, and psychiatric problems like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The same men may also suffer from “reverse anorexia” and use steroids to look like a specific body form, such as images of Greek gods that are often seen at museums and in textbooks. Let’s face it, our American culture is obsessed with body image. Anthropologists have found such effects of American culture on other societies. Those whose particular body type doesn’t look like a Western (North American) model may feel they do not measure up and want to change how he or she looks.

Body image plasters us continually on television, movies, posters, clothing stores, entertainment news, and advertising media. To use a common phrase, “sex sells,” and gay men may want to look thin or chiseled and muscled like the beautiful actors we see continually. It is no surprise that eating disorders are a problem among gay men. I am a victim of wanting to look good too. Being a vegetarian and with high metabolism, I am already thin. However, I wanted to look like the beautiful muscled men I saw on magazine covers, such as Men’s Health. For example, I wanted to have a body like Hugh Jackman or Mario Lopez, broad and muscled.

viewimage_story.phpBoth are gorgeous men in my view, and so I started to take protein weight gainer shakes and exercise. I ended up in the hospital. The animal protein from the shakes, the doctor said, irritated my system because I had not digested animal by-products in so long (about 20 years). I went to Pride this year and saw guys thin as me and realized I did not need to look like a Greek god or beautiful actor to be happy. I just needed to be me. My partner would just have to accept me as I am, to love me and not try to change my appearance. I have decided to eat healthy and take protein via alternate means such as eating tofu and protein drinks without animal by-products within them.

I encourage all of you to do the same. If you are unhealthy, do something about it and speak to your doctor about finding a way to look good through a healthy routine that will not harm you and do not overdo it. Body image is important in our culture, but sometimes the best thing to do is just be yourself. If your partner cannot accept you, then they are probably not the right one for you. Do not risk losing too much weight or gaining too much either. More importantly, do not become obsessive about how you might look. Do things at a moderate pace, all good things come to those who are patient.

About Joshua Spencer

I am a writer for the Gay Voice since April 2013. I have contributed book reviews for The UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns and wrote for Child of God Online from 2007-10 as the primary writer. I published my first article in the Christian Union Witness titled "Coat of Many Colors" in 1998. I am a gay Christian, which probably sounds strange to some of you, but it is possible to be both, and I come from a liberal theological tradition. I've worked as a librarian for 4 years and a substitute teacher for 8 years. I have a BA in History and Anthropology and two Master of Education degrees. I'm currently working on a Mastery of Theology: Ethics degree and may pursue a PhD at some point in a social sciences field. I'm also working on publishing 2 books.

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