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Body Beautiful Myths

By Graham Green

For most of us the perfect body is much like the holy grail and the fountain of youth. The quest for this elusive treasure has captivated people from all walks of life ever since the dawn of time on this little outpost of ours in the universe.

From your average girl who can’t fit into those skinny jeans, to the man who wants the six pack and only got the Keg, we all want to look like those perfect, shiny, pretty people we see in the magazines and on TV.

Honestly, I am no different. I look in the mirror and think, ‘maybe I should go to the gym’. There is no harm in wanting to be healthier. Well. not when people do it properly anyway.

But they don’t always. Do they?

I don’t know about you but as soon as I hear the word 'anorexia', I think of a self-absorbed, shallow blonde girl from an American soap opera (because there is always at least one). The truth, however, is not so visible: anorexia nervosa is a serious psychological condition. Anorexic people suffer from a severely distorted image of themselves, which can lead to severe depression, serious illness, and in many cases death. It takes a moment to fully comprehend the meaning there: that right now there are people out there who may very well be starving themselves to death, because they don’t like what they see in the mirror.

And, when we do away with our comfortable stereotypes, we have to accept that it isn’t the blonde skinny teen from TV who suffers from it. It’s the normal girl or boy, walking through life in much the same humdrum way as we are. Current statistics show that out of every 1000 girls, 7 of them will have an eating disorder; likewise, 1 in 1000 men is also likely to suffer from one, with teenagers of both genders being the main risk group.

The first question we always want to ask is why? It’s a sad question, because in so many ways we already know the answer. It’s the same answer we give when people ask us why we order the salad, or go to the gym. We want to be happy with our bodies, which in of itself is extremely difficult. Most of all, we want to be special, and for other people to see that too. In a world obsessed with the ‘body beautiful’, is it any wonder that there are people who fall through the cracks, where a mild quirk can become a damaging and possibly deadly obsession?

Alarmingly, there seems to be something of a fashion forming around anorexia and other eating disorders, in the unsavoury shape of the growing internet sub-culture of ‘Pro-Ana’. Pro-Ana adherents claim that anorexia is little more than a life choice, similar to some types of vegetarianism. The movement is spawned by groups of young people who suffer from the condition and reach out to others. Through a safe medium like the internet they are able to support each other in their lifestyle. They have even been known to put up ‘Thinspiration’ pics, doctored photographs of people and well known celebrities to make them appear thinner and more ‘attractive’.

It breaks the heart to see the posts from young men and women who blog about how they got through dinner by hiding food in plastic bags and throwing them out when Mum’s gone to bed. I went through the hints and tips, and soon realised that people had actually written them so they can enable entirely new groups of people to be as thin as they think they have to be.

So what is the answer? The problem is that there really isn’t one. Eating disorders have been around for a while and it is unlikely they will vanish anytime soon. However it is important to know that there is hope for sufferers and their loved ones. Most GPs are able to refer to a specialist counsellor, psychiatrist or psychologist in these cases, and there are all kinds of treatments available, ranging from group therapy to dietary advice. The important thing is to be aware of yourself, and be careful that your new ‘diet’ might not just cost you your health.

Think of the life that there is around you: if men and women were all meant to be one size and shape we would be. But we aren’t, and we should celebrate those things which make us all special, instead of feeling like we need to be told what that is.

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