Reverse Anorexia

It’s easy to think that when it comes to body image and insecurity, we women have a monopoly.  Yet as the rise of eating disorders and depression in men indicates, this is far from true.  When it comes to self-esteem and gender expectations, Batman may be just as damaging as Barbie.

There’s a reason why Mr Right is described as tall, dark and handsome.  For guys, size matters – and it’s more than just a cliché.   As Nancy Etcoff observes in her book, ‘Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty’, men who are above average height  are shown to be more successful in the workplace and in the bedroom.  In the US the average guy is 5”9, but more than half of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are six feet or taller and only 3 per cent are 5”7 or less.  Height isn’t seen as correspondingly important for women.  Instead, tall women tend to end up with tall men.  What’s interesting is that where this isn’t the case, the guys concerned are usually extremely rich and powerful, (e.g, Tom Cruise or Nicholas Sarkozey).

Despite the much-touted decline of the classic men’s magazine, one publication – Men’s Health, has bucked the trend and is growing in popularity. Male models have bodies almost as restricted as those of women – they’re tall, (6 feet or more), and have V-shaped torsos (usually ranging from 40-42 inch chest and 30-32 inch waist).

Psychiatrist Harrison Pope has studied athletes and body builders in Boston and LA.  He claims that about 9 per cent of them suffer from ‘reverse anorexia’ – or ‘bigorexia’.  The person feels that his body is small and weak, when in fact it is very strong and muscular. Yet whilst women may be more likely to talk to friends, men often feel too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help.

Writing in, ‘The Adonis Complex’, Pope claims that the portrayal of ridiculously muscular characters in children’s cartoons, such as  G.I Joe, are to blame.  Batman’s shoulders for example,  have grown from one quarter, to almost half of his height.  Small wonder that some studies also estimate 6-7 per cent of college students are using or have used steroids.  In the media too, it’s not just ladies who are pilloried for weight gain.  Russell Crowe was nicknamed ‘The Flabiator’ for putting on a few pounds and male models are used to sell everything from shower gel to toilet cleaner. But at what cost?

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