‘Manarexics’: The Silent Sufferers

ETSY.COM | PHOTO COURTESY It is equally as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie in a world of beauty-obsessed culture.
It is equally as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie in a world of beauty-obsessed culture.

Of every mental illness, eating disorders carry the highest mortality rate, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. What many fail to consider is that this dangerous affliction is not gender biased.

Because men account for only 15 percent of eating disorder sufferers, the factors that drive their behavior are often overlooked. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are all most commonly viewed as “women’s disorders,” resulting in a gendered stigmatization.

As with most psychological disorders, discussing, or especially reaching out for help, is still unfortunately considered taboo in many cases. Gender roles and the conflict involved with masculinity in eating disorders leave most men reeling in silence.

This is not to undermine the prevalence, challenges or the severity of eating disorders within women but more so to address the ramifications for both genders.

The onset of any variation of an eating disorder, like all mental illnesses, is a hugely obscure combination of internal and external factors. The National Eating Disorders Association indicated that nearly 50 percent of eating disorder victims meet the criteria for depression. Other common personal traits include perfectionism, neuroticism and other addictive tendencies – all non-gender specific.

Outside factors are what mildly separates the experience for men and women. Generally with women, body dysmorphia manifests in the singular goal for thinness and control. In men, it varies between thinness or muscularity.

There are two types of unattainable bodies being thrown at boys today. NEDA indicated the overtly muscular build of a man’s body has increased greatly since the ’70s in media culture, throwing some into an over-exercising, under-feeding crash routine. The other is a more recent trend, influenced by the bone-thin boys of the fashion world. Specifically, the male model lineup for Saint Laurent in recent seasons has sparked discussion about “Manarexia” and body expectations for men.

Of the 10 million males who will at some point suffer from an eating disorder, 42 percent identify as homosexual and are most commonly diagnosed with an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. EDNOS sufferers typically aren’t at a dangerous body weight but carry elements of every disordered eating behavior.

Sexuality is a major aspect in understanding eating disorders. Particularly with gay men, thinness is often considered the ideal. Pulling from a personal narrative, I’ve heard of scenarios that included the consumption of orange juice-dipped cotton balls for sustenance. This anecdote came from a gay man slimming down to be attractive for potential suitors.

The same effect can transpire in women, as some media and societal pressures will associate beauty and self-worth with thinness. But often, it is driven in an opposite direction where victims of sexual assault will cope with their trauma through an eating disorder, as it provides a sense of control.

Due to the highly polarized nature of these specific instances, most rehab centers don’t allow coed environments to exist. Understandably, yet norm-defying, men seeking help have even further obstacles to overcome.

What’s most important to remember is that no sufferer is more or less important based on gender, class or previous life experiences. All discussion surrounding mental illness is progress, so long as it’s done in a kosher manner. When doing so, being all-inclusive is imperative.

“One in every four college students suffers from mental illness.”
The following resources are available at NDSU and in the community:

Free NDSU counseling programs
The Fortitude Project: LGBTQA Support Group
3:30 – 4:50 p.m. Thursdays. A confidential support group for
LGBT students. Provides opportunities for students to discuss and
connect with fellow Bison about self-identification.
Meditation for Stress Management and Improved
3 – 4 p.m. Mondays. Since 2001, this group of students, faculty
and staff practices mindful meditation. All are welcome; weekly
attendance is not mandatory.
Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Support Group
2 – 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays. Open for any NDSU student concerned
with substance abuse or dependence.
Graduate Student Support Group
12 – 1:30 p.m. Friday. Provides a setting for graduate students
to meet and connect with their peers.
Mental health institutions in North Dakota
North Dakota State Counseling Center: 212 Ceres Hall.
(701) 231-7671. ndsu.edu/counseling
“(P)rovides a confidential setting in which students may explore
concerns of a personal, academic or career-related nature; makes
referrals; and serves as consultants,” NDSU Counseling Center
website reads. The service is included in student fees.
Prairie St. John’s: 510 Fourth St. S. (877) 333-9565. prairiestjohns.
Since 1997, Prairie St. John’s has served the Fargo-Moorhead
community. The fully licensed and accredited facility serves all
patients suffering from mental health issues, chemical dependency
addition or co-occurring disorders.
Sanford Behavioral Health: 100 Fourth St. S. (701) 234-
2000. sanfordhealth.org
Offering behavioral health, counseling, psychiatry and
psychology, Sanford Health provides varieties of “therapeutic
strategies to reduce symptoms, improve life skills and help people
regain control of their lives,” its website reads.
North Dakota Suicide Prevention Program: 600 East
Blvd. Ave., Dept. 301, Bismarck. (800) 273-8255. ndhealth.gov/
Suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in North Dakota. The
hotline listed above is available at any time for those thinking of
committing suicide.
Neuropsychiatric Research Institute:700 First Ave. S.
(701) 293-1335. nrifargo.com
NRI is home to the Eating Disorders Institute, which “offers
state-of-the-art therapies to treat anorexia nervosa, bulimia
nervosa and obesity,” its website reads.
Dacotah Foundation:
112 N. University Dr. Suite 230. (701) 364-0743
The non-profit organization’s mission statement reads,
“To provide a system of care that enhances the quality of life
for children and adults with mental illness and/or chemical
Further resources
freedomfromfear.org: A national non-profit mental illness
advocacy organization for anxiety and depression
iocdf.org: The International OCD Foundation helps individuals
overcome their disorder
mhand.org: The Mental Health America of North Dakota website
ulifeline.org: An online resource for college-related mental
health questions

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