What My Eating Disorder Taught Me About Masculinity

In case you'd prefer to watch the video:

 

This blog post is not going to be some corny rant about how "real men cry" or anything like that.  In fact, I take issue with that expression.  Rather, this is going to be an honest and personal look into my own experience with ED recovery and the lessons it taught me about masculinity.  

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What is confidence?

One of the problems we have right now in society, when it comes to men and boys, is that we figure we're "supposed to be confident."  The expression itself is illogical, because that's not what confidence is.  True confidence cannot be feigned; it can only come naturally from self-efficacy and from knowing you're capable of something.

In fact, confidence at its core is a belief in your ability to accomplish a task or overcome a hurdle.  For example, recovering from your eating disorder provides confidence in your ability to recover from an eating disorder.  

But the problem is that it's not considered "manly" or masculine to have to work towards loving your body.  We tend to see masculinity as this comfort in who you are that you don't have to work towards.  And simultaneously, and quite ironically, we also like to associate masculinity with having a strong and muscular physique.  So, on one hand, "real men" are supposed to feel good about their bodies.  But, on the other hand, "real men" are supposed to look like G.I. Joe action figures.  

With such a strong discrepancy, you can see why it's so hard for men to even admit they have a problem.  Instead, they feel forced into drastically improving their bodies and bringing them up to the "industry standard," as it were, while also pretending they're totally comfortable with how they look now.

Eating disorders and masculinity

Men are not only expected to be strong and powerful (lest they risk being given the most humiliating of insults - "weak" or "skinny"), but they also are not allowed to feel shameful that they aren't those things.  They're supposed to suck it up and "be men," whatever that means.

But it's funny how it all works.  You see, once you do open up, you now have an accountability system, a newfound sense of vulnerability, and then - importantly - you have a starting point.

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That's the biggest problem here.  We say, "I know I need to start having breakfast" or "I need to stop binge eating" but until you open up to the problem, admit to it, and establish a starting point, it's impossible to actually change.  Because verbalizing something is incredibly powerful, and it somewhat holds our feet to the fire and makes this all a reality.

There is a sense of comfort in keeping quiet and struggling internally, and it's this comfort that keeps us stuck in place and bars us from making any changes we need to make.  

This is not just for me

Recovering from my own ED taught me that being a confident man comes out of difficulties in life, and dealing with your insecurities head on, with complete vulnerability.  Saying, "This is who I am, for better or worse" to the world and letting the consequences come is undoubtedly a scary and unnerving prospect, yet it is so necessary to be able to get better.  Oftentimes throughout recovery you can know exactly what needs to be done next by simply asking yourself, "What am I most scared of doing right now?"

What's more important than the repercussions to this vulnerability is that I do something that makes it easier for us all to open up about this issue.  This is not so that we can have some crying circle of pity, but so that we have the opportunity to change and recover.

Ari Snaevarsson