December 20th, 2011

Men’s health, my topic of the day!

Well I say it is a topic of the day, but it is really a topic that I talk about a lot. Today especially because I have just finished at a men’s health strategic planning panel (and now enjoying my mocha with extra cream while I write about my ramblings of the day!).

First off, it was great to see a room full of people committed to the advancement of health awareness in men, from professionals, service users, other charities and even the fire service. The collection of skills in the room was varied and there was a great deal to get through and talk about, that said, I am not really meant to say what was discussed in the meeting, so I won’t.

Instead I wanted to have a little ramble about some of the topics that came up and some of the debates around it, as I learnt a lot about the overall picture of men’s health today as usually I come from a very emotional health point of view.

The most obvious thing that came out of it was that men don’t generally talk about health issues, I am forever talking about how they don’t talk about emotional health but it is also clear that physical health is greatly neglected too. When campaigns are aimed at men they are usually about testicular cancer or getting all your exercise. Then you see this group of people all looking in at men’s health in different ways, through tackling the issues through workforces and unions all the way to the fire service outreach encouraging men to be aware of their help and access services.

It goes to show that it is not just professionals and charities that come into play when we talk about the overall issue of men’s health, but individuals in local communities and a multi-agency approach even with those agencies you wouldn’t usually look upon as somewhere for health advice.

Secondly and I feel most importantly, there is a general consensus that when we look at the issue of men’s health, it is just not taken all that seriously. We had a brief chat about the HPV vaccine and the massive campaign that went on encouraging women to get it to prevent cervical cancer when there is just as much evidence that the vaccine can also prevent certain cancers in men. Despite all this evidence we see nothing out there warning men of the risk or encouraging them to get the vaccine.

But I also think it is important that we don’t swing the other way. There is such a focus of female health and wellbeing and as a men’s health type person I am not out to ensure that men are singled out and get the best treatment. Instead, what I would like to see is equal access to health, no favourability but instead a gender inclusive service across the board. For instance, when you look at funding of health services, the amount invested in men’s health in comparison to women’s health is massively different, with men’s health being drastically underfunded in most areas of the country.

While this is all important, it does not in my mind solve the age old problem. Men’s health has become something of a societal issue, men don’t talk about their health and men don’t open up about their issues, which make them a harder group of people to reach. So how do we get men talking? It’s the time old question to which I don’t have an answer to, but I think it has to be along many levels, many different campaigns and really get to the heart of men and get them talking.

This may mean organisations having to be a bit more risqué in their literature, creating engaging and interactive campaigns and get away from the stereotypical information we so commonly see. Largely, we need people out there spreading the word, raising the profile of men’s health. Imagine if everyone oh read this just started a little discussion about their health, could it have the potential to spread?

So these are my very broad musings, but all in all I am so glad to see a group of people so committed to the health of men, it is certainly a step forward. Now I shall leave you, because however passionate I am about the topic, if I hear the words Men’s Health again today I may internally combust!

November 9th, 2011

An interesting one, an art exhibit which looks at how male beauty is conceptualised and turns the focus on the male form in a way not often done… Makes some really interesting points. It even makes a point on the ‘plus size’ argument and that within modelling, there is no real male ‘plus size’ market, it is the same chiselled image. 

Interesting stuff indeed, check it out.

October 16th, 2011

Calling all Men - Fat talk Free is for you too!

For those of you that don’t know, this week is Fat Talk Free week, but what I hear you ask, is Fat Talk Free?

It has been in the US for the past 3 years and has only just been bought to the UK by The Succeed Foundation, it is a week to get people to look at the way they talk about body image, weight, appearance and all the derogatory ways we do that. There are two events in London that Succeed are putting on, which will be attended by Body Gossip, Men Get Eating Disorders Too and other campaigns that have close links to body image. So in my true style, I thought I would kick the week off with a blog…

One thing that has annoyed me in the run up to Fat Talk Free week is the way that Succeed have publicised it. Women have these issues, when women talk about…, when a group of girls are together…

It is just yet another time that the issue has been feminised when the fact is the way we talk about our bodies has a lot to do with men too, the conversations may be slightly different, the way they are had may be slightly different but under it all it is the same issue, as a nation we are obsessed with ideals and the way we fit into them and we like to talk about it, usually negatively.

I have always said and will continue to say that men have missed a lot of the body image debate. But gender roles in society, in my opinion, have shifted away from the traditional model of women being the ones who have to watch their appearance and men being the ones who went out and built the career. This went a long time ago and as a result women are now under the same career pressures as men and men are under more pressure to fit in to appearance related ideals. This is of course a very narrow example, but otherwise I could go on about how I think it has come round to this all night long!

So what is it with men, we certainly don’t have the sample conversations I have seen on the Succeed website, about sliding into jeans and “does my bum look big in this” type discussions. The conversations are different, they revolve around muscle, height, fitness and the like, but they can have the same damaging consequences. Doing what I do, I speak to men all the time who engage in the kind of talk about how they need to look a certain way to be considered attractive all the way to people who feel they need to go the gym 6 times a week just to keep this up and when guys get together it is the same body competition, just in a slightly different way. You so often hear men in a pub, talking competitively about how much they have worked out or how much they can press or lift, which can make people feel very insecure about their appearance and ability, they may not show it, but it can.

Fat Talk is a very general term, you call it what you like, Fat Talk, Muscle Talk, Height Talk, but it is all the same thing. When we talk about our bodies excessively, it not only creates problems for you, but for the others that have to sit there and listen. It is certainly a fact that the way we are so obsessed with ideals isn’t helpful and the fact we have such a narrow view of what is to be considered to be perfect really limits our ability to see that really if someone is being themselves, then that is pretty much as perfect as it is ever going to be, for them!

You could blame the media, the way body image is portrayed, but we have a responsibility to moderate what we are exposed to and how we look at it. Yes I believe that the way body image is shown needs to change, but we need to change also.

I feel the need to mention Natasha Devon and the whirlwind that is Body Gossip, for every time I meet with her she makes it abundantly clear that body image is an issue that affects everybody! And it is one of the only campaigns by far that makes an extra effort to include everyone in the body image debate.

So as this is all getting very long now, my message is easy, can we take this one week to look at the way we talk about ourselves and other people? And, can we also take this week to look at the way men are affected? As it is all too often forgotten.

August 13th, 2011

Yet another gender barrier, research on sexualisation of images

So today I came across this piece of “research” (I use them term loosely) which was feature in an article on science today “Marked rise in intensely sexualised images of women, not men”. This angers me to say the least, the fact it was blatantly researched from the female point of view, taking a very narrow section and trying to apply it across the board.

Their entire research study was based on copies of rolling stone magazine, which in my opinion, is guaranteed to give the results that they reported, the article can be found here.

I am not a researcher, but applying common sense to this screams alarm bells in my head, what about the entire society as something tells me the world doesn’t revolve around rolling stones magazine?

They don’t deny it happens with men, but they do underplay the amount it happens, if you for instance take a magazine aimed at the gay community then the images in that sort of publication will be of men, simple concept to me.

One magazine will never represent the true picture of what is going on, I could sit here all night listing magazines and judging by their readership, show a little initiative and make an educated guess as to which gender would be over sexualised. 

Advertisers, editors and writers will always tailor their content to the target audience so while in rolling stone magazine they find more female images are overly sexual when we look at magazines such as gay times, men’s health you will find more images that are overly sexual, or overly aspirational that are of men. 

My problem with this research is that it creates yet another gender barrier. Campaigners and advocates have a hard enough time at the moment trying to get the message across that men and boys have it just as hard with body image, that men get eating disorders too and that they have the same reaction to the over sexual / over aspirational images as women.

I say this a lot, and I will say it again, yes women have had the pressure for a lot longer and I believe it is far more recently that content has been made like this for the male market. The demands on physical attractiveness, sexual pressures and body confidence have been much more a female issue in history than it has been for men.

But we now have a different culture; we live in a society that for whatever reason is fixated on physical values. Men are now subject to the same pressures as women when it comes to attaining ‘physical ideals’ and although it is a different expectation, there is still an expectation on both sexes.

These hyper sexualised images don’t help matters at all; this is true for both sexes. Maybe there are more images out there of women, but we all know in recent years there has been a massive boom in the male market, with more publications now than ever before. Regardless of how many images are out there, people are being affected by them, end of.

We can talk about different ‘communities’ within society, for example the Gay community, where it has often been argued that body confidence is far more an issue for men than any other, and I wouldn’t discount that at all.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we will ever get to the stage where every outlet is not doing it, as let’s face it, it just won’t sell as well.

We need to start looking on us as people, to be almost able to self-moderate what we see, feel comfortable about the skin we are in and to be able to look deeper, not so superficially. 

As for this piece of research and many others for that matter, they just perpetuate the stigma in society that men just don’t get it as bad, that they aren’t affected and if they are, they are being affected by a “girl’s issue”. I am sick of hearing it, I am sick of seeing it and instead of the way we currently look at the issue we need to see it from a gender inclusive point of view, see where the problems lie and tackle them.

July 13th, 2011

Are eating disorders in men really on the rise?

So today has seen a bit of a storm, well a media one anyway. All day on the BBC, in the Independent and in various other outlets eating disorders in men has been a hot topic.

This is following a report by GP’s that there is a rise in men seeking help for eating disorders and a whopping increase in the amount of men being hospitalised because of them.

I had my stint on BBC Oxford today talking about the issue and also a little bit of how I became involved in MGEDT and Eating disorder & Body image campaigning, this was a great opportunity for me to air some of my views on the subject of the rise in eating disorders and I wanted to put some of them in writing this evening, so here it is……

In my eyes we can look at this rise in several ways, first and foremost in my mind this morning when this was all going on was a simple fact, while there is still a long way to go, men are beginning to find doctors and health professionals more approachable. With the massive rise in men’s health awareness and mental health publicity and of course the work charities like the one I work for do to raise awareness, it could be said that the issues is out there, people are slowly become more aware and the stigma is slowly being broken down.

This, alongside the improved peer support, would theoretically make it easier for men to seek help for disordered eating, are we as a society actually becoming more accepting of mental health, especially of a mental illness which has a real gender stigma?

We then of course have the flip side of the argument, could there be a genuine rise in the number of cases of eating disorders in men?

With the pressure in society ever on the increase to attain a certain physical attraction or look a certain way it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if disorders around body image, disordered eating and self-esteem issues were on the increase. 

But I have also always maintained that the way you feel about your appearance will never alone cause an eating disorder, but it can certainly fuel the fire. I have always strongly believed that they are an unhealthy coping strategy of sorts, a way of trying to deal with difficult circumstances, negative emotion and problems you face. But with the constant bombardment of advertising, negative talk about bodies and the assumed body ideal constantly flaunted could it indeed trigger the start of an eating disorder?

These are questions that I don’t think I will ever answer, because an eating disorder is very different from individual to individual, some people will harness the route of their problems surrounding food with body image while others will take life experiences as the root cause, some, like me, may even feel it to be a combination of the two.

So my first question to myself was ‘are eating disorders in men actually on the rise?’ I have managed to ask myself a few more questions since then, but I don’t think the answer is that cut and dry.

Maybe more men are coming forward to seek that all important help, but maybe it is also the case that more men are falling foul of eating disorders.

It would make sense to me for it to be a combination of both factors, it would fit with the pressures and shift in today’s society on both levels, both the pressure to aspire and the openness for discussion to take place about sensitive issues.

Regardless, I think we need to see what has been reported today in a slightly positive light, because for the first time ever, more men are actually coming forward and seeking help, and have not been ashamed to do it. If the men that have created this statistic have come forward, then it means everyone can make that brave step towards recovery.

What do you think? is it that men are feeling more compelled to come forward? or is it that eating disorders are alarmingly on the rise in men? Could it indeed be a combination of factors? do let me know your thoughts.