Dr Heidi Bergmeier of Eating Disorders Victoria in Australia claims that by the age of three children begin noticing differences in body shape and by five they're starting to pick up on cultural bias around larger bodies.
Eating disorders, and subtle disordered behaviours related to eating or body image, are no longer just a female issue. While adolescent females have historically dominated the reported statistics, the profile has shifted and males are holding their own as the reported rate of eating disorders in the Australian population rises to one in 10 with images of increasingly muscular superheroes and athletes being marketed to children.
Not quite the essence of equality that we're shooting for!
"There’s this drumbeat that muscularity equals masculinity, and so we’re seeing more and more young men with muscle dysmorphia,” says Dr. Harrison Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.
According to Pope's research, more males are experimenting with anabolic steroids as they hit the gym with the intention of achieving the muscle mass they associate with masculinity.
It's estimated that 45 per cent of western men are unhappy with their bodies to some degree, compared with only 15 per cent 25 years ago. It's reported that one in four people with anorexia nervosa is now male and binge eating disorder affects men and women in equal proportions.
Most experts believe these statistics could be much higher given males are less likely to seek medical help than females for any type of illness, including mental illness.
Mentors can support the development of positive body image through leading by example, communicating with compassion and without judgement or stereotyping of others.
Developing connection with, and compassion for, self is a great place to start. Encourage discussions that celebrate the amazing processes our bodies perform in order for us to enjoy life: make new blood cells, filter toxins from the body, send oxygen to our muscles so we can run or dance for longer, create life. Make it part of your positive daily dialogue with children and adolescents. It's easier to build a positive body image than restore a broken body.
Reach out to your GP, mental health professional, or a local organisation aligned with the mission of The Butterfly Foundation if you need support for a mentee presenting with symptoms of an eating disorder, the earlier the better.