Saturday, May 02, 2009

Rise in Eating Disorders Among Scottish Men

When I was in my twenties I had problems with my own body image, which was ridiculous, especially with the hindsight provided by the nude photos I took of myself during that era. While I never developed an eating disorder, I did avoid taking off my shirt, wearing shorts, or going to the beach.

When I was elementary school age, I swam nude at the YMCA, freely changed clothes in front of friends, and used to love the beach. And now in my fifties I'm posting nude photos of myself on the Internet and getting naked socially whenever possible.

So what happened in between to make me body phobic? The only explanation is cultural, based upon unrealistic body images in the media. Yes, even in the sixties and seventies magazines were airbrushing out skin imperfections, and Barbie and Ken were seen as the epitome of the human form. But today it's far more extreme, with digital imaging allowing photographers and retouchers to morph people into idealized forms which are physically impossible for real people to emulate.

Body image problems have always been an issue for both men and women, but it's always been more severe for females, who have to contend with far more images of supermodels and scantily-clad girls selling everything from cars to cosmetics. Experts in Scotland are now saying that body image issues are leveling out between the sexes, with more and more young men finding themselves physically challenged when presented with unrealistic images of male models and athletes in magazines.
An estimated 700,000 men in the UK have eating disorders - one in four of all cases.The number of victims consulting GPs and nurses has doubled over the last five years...We are giving out mixed messages - don't become overweight but don't become anorexic. We need to be careful, particularly with young children.
I think the problem is twofold - caused in part by all the idealized imagery in the media, and also by the fact that our society has made all types of nudity taboo, except when bathing or having sex. If people never see normal human bodies with all their wonderful variations, then only the media created perfect bodies remain in the mind's eye.

We have gradually become so wrapped up in our own textile coverings that we've forgotten what we all really look like. It's so severe that states must pass laws which protect breastfeeding mothers from indecent exposure charges. A society which even thinks for a brief second that the sight of a breastfeeding mother is offensive in any way has lost all perspective of reality. Frankly, the most comical invention of modern man is the bathing suit, which serves no purpose except to cover up genitals and female nipples. It certainly doesn't keep the wearer dry, and most definitely does not cover up any physical imperfections.

Any cure for this increasing body image problem needs to begin with young children, who need to be taught that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. We are so fearful of "predators" that we cover up even the littlest babies at beaches, and are close to defining any image of childhood nudity as being pornographic. Is it any wonder that these cocoon children are growing up with body phobias?

Bring back nude swimming at the YMCA before the generation which grew up with it as a normal part of childhood begins to die off. Let kids run naked through the sprinkler, or frolic in freedom at the beach. Reinstate mandatory nude gang showers after all gym classes for public school children of all ages, and make the study of normal human body images part of any sex education curriculum. Kids need to see each other and learn that there is no such thing as physical perfection, only physical variation.

There's nothing wrong with recognizing and admiring beauty, and there's nothing wrong with trying to improve one's own health and physical appearance. It's all a matter of degree. The more detached we become from reality when it comes to the human form, the more we yearn for a body which exists only in the fiction of modern media. The idea is to strike a balance where we are equally dissatisfied and satisfied with our own bodies. In other words, it's healthy to want to improve ourselves, and to admire beauty and health, but at the same time we need to accept our physical shells, realizing that there are limitations placed upon us by nature, and that true beauty comes from within.

1 comment:

rickromig said...

Most of my adult life and until a few years ago, I rarely took off my shirt or wore shorts in public. I had a body image problem even if I was unaware of the reasons for it.

I'm sure the idealized images in the media are a huge contributor to today's body image problems since so many people accept what they see on television as "reality' when, in fact, almost nothing on TV is real. As a society we have problems dealing with what is real and natural.

"...our society has made all types of nudity taboo, except when bathing or having sex." I think there's an assumption that we bathe alone and have sex in the dark.

Our society is repressed and lives in fear. Neo-puritanism is thriving and expanding its reach globally. Your ideas for returning to body image sanity are good but until the paranoia is overcome, not likely to happen on a large scale.