Eating Disorders are not a Gender

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It became evident to me when I first began writing about eating disorders that I wasn't alone. I was lucky enough to receive so much love and support from other women all around the world suffering from the same thing I was. We commiserated, cried, laughed, screamed and mourned that dark period of our lives together. We figuratively held hands as we pushed onward, determined to rescue ourselves.

I was about three months recovered when a close friend confided in me about his own struggles with anorexia. He had suffered for a few years before he realized he was harming himself and needed to make a change. Now he is recovered and it is in his past, but almost no one besides me has knowledge of this major, terrifying, transformative piece of his life.

My childhood was a carefree one. I played outside a lot, wrote short stories, played sports, and ate whatever I wanted. I had all sorts of friends. Perhaps the only time when race, gender and sexuality just don't fucking matter is when we are children. We love, and we play, and that is all we need to know.

As I got older, I started having to face the undeniable pressures that young girls all over the world are plagued with.

I had to wear a bra. This was a double-edged sword, because you were subject to criticism either way: without a bra, they made fun of your visible nipples and little buds growing on your chest, and with a bra, they snapped your straps in class and laughed until your face turned as red as your back.

I started having to worry about how I was dressed and how that might be perceived. Suddenly I was being told it wasn't appropriate to have on spaghetti straps, or to show too much leg. I had to be okay with covering up. I had to get used to other people calling me out for dressing like a "hoe," before I had any real understanding of what a "hoe" even was. I had to want to be skinny. Just like that; it had to be my main desire. My sole purpose for living. And for women, it doesn't get easier.

That being said, I think with the immense amount of pressure that is placed on women, we turn our focus and empathy away from the fact that men also face a large amount of pressure from society. Yeah, I know, but stay with me here.

We're beginning to talk a whole lot about the unrealistic body standards society has set for women, and we need to. These ideals are exhaustive, unattainable and ridiculous.

On the other hand, men are expected to be fit, muscular, strong and in charge. They are supposed to be protective and dominant, and these equally unrealistic body standards trickle all the way down to the teenage girls laughing about how they'd never date a guy shorter than six feet and sneering at the thin boys in their class for being too "feminine."

For as long as the world has demanded women be minuscule, men have felt the pressure to be "perfect" in a different way, and this can (and in many cases, does) easily lead to an eating disorder - an eating disorder that will likely remain undiagnosed and not taken seriously.

Ask anyone: eating disorders are for women. Not just any woman - specifically vain women. Women whose only concern is fitting into a size 2 dress. At least, that's what the media would have us believe. In reality, eating disorders are found in every age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity all over the world and often stem from other illnesses such as depression, anxiety, OCD, autism and BPD. They are more commonly found in women, but this could certainly be due to the number of men who never come forward because of its stigma in society.

Ever since I learned that my friend had suffered from an eating disorder, I was amazed to find out there are many other men out there going through a similar struggle. Many have come forward and told me about it, but always with absolute discretion.

Eating disorders are considered a woman's illness, but 40% of the Binge Eating Disorder (BED) population is male. Men are also more likely to suffer from EDs such as exercise bulimia, where the person binges and then (in lieu of purging) they overexercise to compensate, and muscle dysmorphia, a sort of body dysmorphia that causes the person to unhealthily obsess over their muscle growth, even going to extremes to see "progress."

This is not an exclusively female issue.
This is not an exclusively female issue.
This is not an exclusively female issue.

And it's not just about a body.

Eating disorders are massively psychological. The voice in your head takes over everything, until you can no longer remember who you used to be. All you know is that you have to keep doing what you're doing - you can't IMAGINE what would happen to you if you had to stop. You feel both on top of the world and miserable. You feel both in charge of your life and wildly out of control. You can't remember when it started, and didn't know it could ever be this hard.

Overcoming my eating disorder was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but for men it is harder. Before they can begin the beautiful journey that is recovery and finally learn to take their life back, they have to fight to be taken seriously in the first place. This is probably why suicide rates for men with eating disorders is higher than women. They are also more likely to progress into their disorder at a faster rate than women.

To my men out there suffering: YOU ARE VALID. I know society, and perhaps the men before you, have tried to beat the emotion out of you, but you are allowed to feel pain. You are allowed to admit when you need help. And you are allowed to get it, without any feelings of shame.

I know you feel alone. I know you feel like you can't talk to anyone, and you don't have to. But please know that you are in my heart, and you deserve happiness and self-love and you shouldn't be afraid of that. Hopefully that means something.

Sometimes I wonder when the world got so fucked up. I guess it's always sort of been this way. But the way I see it, is that we're all people. So why can't we treat each other as such?

Why do men have to be one way and women another? Why can't we just accept that we are ALL different, and that is what makes us beautiful? Why shouldn't we just be happy?

The truth is, I don't really care about society. I never have. I care about people, and I am here for each and every one of you. If you need someone to talk to, vent to, ask advice of, laugh with. One thing I can contribute to the world is simply being here. Being present. Recognizing the beauty in all of you, and hoping that one day, you'll see it too.

XOXO,

Taylor

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