Chief Marketing Officer Julie Holland, MHS, CEDS is the National Eating Disorders Examiner. Read an exceprt from her blog on how eating disorders do not discriminate and the prevalence of eating disorders in the LGBT community below, or to read it in its entirety, click here.
Eating disorders, body image and the LGBT community
do not discriminate. Regardless of gender, skin color, religion or income, these potentially deadly illnesses can have detrimental physical, emotional and mental effects. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are not immune to eating disorders either. In fact, according to some studies, gay men are more likely to have an eating disorder
than straight men due to increased pressure to meet physical standards that are often considered more “attractive” within the gay community.*
Eating disorders among the LGBT community
For some gay men, eating disorders may develop as an outcome of sexual repression. These intense feelings of conflict translate into being dissatisfied with one’s own physical body. Unfortunately, some gay individuals are shamed for who they are by family, friends or colleagues, and often times, they use disordered eating
behaviors as a means for taking control of something when their lives feel chaotic.
Feldman and Meyer cite the sociocultural perspective
as a “prominent explanation for the high prevalence of eating disorders among gay and bisexual men” in their 2007 study, “Eating Disorders in Diverse Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Populations.”** According to the study, gay and bisexual men have been found to have the same weight and body image pressures and expectations when it comes to relationships as straight women; thus they experience similar unrealistic body ideals. Disordered eating
behaviors then develop as an attempt to attain these ideals or cope with confusion often surrounding sexual orientation.
Lesbian and bisexual women may not have the same body image pressures as gay men, as these two groups tend to have differing viewpoints on ideal body image. However, gay women often have similar struggles with sexual orientation and a desire to be accepted in society as a whole, and can engage in disordered eating thoughts and behaviors as a means to manage their anxiety.
LGBT adolescents are especially at risk
Adolescents and young adults who struggle with sexual orientation are especially at risk for eating disorders as they cope with “coming out,” being accepted by their families and fitting in with their peers. A 2009 study by researchers at Harvard University and Children’s Hospital Boston examined the correlation between sexual orientation and binge eating and purging.*** Among the findings were heightened rates of binge eating among both males and females who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or “mostly heterosexual.”
As is true with most adolescents
, the body image ideals and expectations of teenagers identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are significantly impacted by the media. Some segments of the LGBT community and gay media place a hyper-focus on an unattainable body image and idealize stylists and the fashion and beauty industries, which are all highly body-conscious.