Ground Zero – The struggles of Manorexia

In a world obsessed with weight, more and more men are going from being heroes to size zero…

We are living in a time of mass hysteria surrounding our appearance. In particular, weight is a major issue dominating the headlines. The columns about the controversy surrounding size zero models have more inches than the waists of all the models mentioned in them added together. But the main focus has always been on the female models who are starving themselves to get work on the catwalks, and those who’ve strived to imitate their slight frames. But what about the boys?

According to recent figures by Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED) for every four female cases of anorexia, there is one male. But worryingly the statistics are possibly a lot higher. According to a report last August, Life Works – one of Europe’s major addiction treatment centres – it is believed many cases are going unreported as men fail to notify their GPs or their symptoms go unrecognised by friends and family.

Unlike debates on letting size zero female models on the catwalk, the debate on male size zeros has yet to materialise. Yet male models are getting skinnier and skinnier with each season, putting immense pressure on models on the industry, and also on the consumer.

The demands made on male models are currently going through a major change. Muscular, toned bodies are no longer desired. What the model scouts are looking for are tall, skinny frames. Robert* 21, was scouted by Premiere Model Management last summer and instantly realised the real reason he was spotted; “Within five minutes of entering the agency I was asked to take off my shirt,” he says. “I felt very vulnerable and exposed. I was then asked to tone up so my stomach looked even flatter. I was judged on my body almost instantly. I found it really affected the way I ate.”

“At shows I worked on I noticed that I fitted in with a convention. All the males models were very young feminine-looking, skinny boys, very different to the muscular, macho bodies associated with being a male model. There appears to be a new trend to fit boys in with the convention of ‘the Modern Man’.”

When one asks who is to blame for the new super-skinny trend amongst men one source is often mentioned. Dior Homme is notorious for using scarily thin men that even Robert couldn’t compete with. “I wasn’t sure even I’d be able to fit into some of Dior Homme’s range,” he says “I’m lucky as I’m naturally thin but wouldn’t want to get any skinnier. Certainly not for modelling, but I do know some models who would.”

Even Dior Homme’s Director Hedi Slimane is battling his own demons, using a secret diet to fit into his very fitted suits. According to a source Slimane’s diet “consists of baby food. He doesn’t like to do too much digesting, so it’s the obvious option. His favourite flavour is chicken, but he won’t say which brand he prefers.”

Before his catwalk shows, Slimane goes on what is known in the industry as ‘a boy safari’, handpicking boys off the street who match his criteria. Male model of the moment Chris Ullyatt told the Independent in a recent interview; “”I was approached in the street by the head of Dior Homme. All the lads that ended up on the catwalk were tall and skinny and androgynous-looking. It’s what they go for.”

Some models really feel the pressure when they aren’t naturally slim like Ullyatt and Robert. Ron Saxen, an American model published a book last April about his battle with eating disorders. With the trend constantly changing, Saxen resorted to drastic measure to alter his body in order to continue to get work as a model. The book, comically written but with a heart-aching story, details his daily routine;

“My routine would be to get up, have a cup of coffee, run five miles, have another cup of coffee, cycle 20 miles, have a break and then swim 20 lengths of the pool… I had come down to 205lb, but I needed to get down to around 175lb to be a model. So I did it, and at 6ft 1in I was mostly skin and bones. But I got a contract.”

Current trends are not helping the situation. With the hottest rock stars of the moment donning skinny-jeans and fitted shirts the body-concious are even more pressured to lose weight. With super-skinny presenters like Alex Zane and Russell Brand dominating the television and the gossip columns with their sexual conquests it is hard to find a role-model for young men who isn’t super thin these days.  In complete contrast to the 1990s’ body building obsession, the increase in attraction of the “metrosexual” or “modern man” has helped create this phenomenon. Actors like Jude Law and Orlando Bloom are slim, gentle men with feminine qualities. The pressure to follow suit is increasing.

But what happens now? Until we start to recognise that men are being affected by the size-zero battle it won’t stop being a problem. The causes of anorexia in men is nearly identical to the cause of female anorexia, according to website www.maleanorexia.net

“each (form of anorexia) have similar levels of emotional disorders”.

It is time to recognise this horrific “silent” disease. Men are just as vulnerable as women. Anorexia is the biggest killer amongst mental illnesses each year according to government surveys.  The pressure to fit into an ideal is very high and for some, the extremes of trying to achieve this ordeal, means it comes at a very high cost.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Ground Zero – The struggles of Manorexia

  1. Hi Lexi,

    I couldn’t agree more. However while the trend of ultra-skinny boys is putting a lot of strain on male models, the former trend of ultra-toned male models was also doing quite a bit of harm too on most every day normal guys’ self-esteem (but nothing to the extend of what the skinny trend is doing). As long as models will continue to be put in the spotlight their appearance will affect a part of the population. And if they didn’t look a certain way, we’d all be models after all. No one wants to see the guy’s next door half naked (or these “curvy” girls of the Boots ads – or is it Boots? – no one needs to see them on a billboard). But don’t get me wrong, Fashion goes often too far and this trend of anorexic looks is shameful and minimum BMI standards should apply. Most industries are regulated and have standards to comply with, so why not fashion? I’ve heard horror stories from some very high-fashion people, like the one where the model had to sit down after every shoot because she was too weak to stand. They were giving her sugared water to help her not faint. That’s how thin she was. Disgusting.

    On a different note I however always find it quite odd that models complain that they are being judged only on their appearance (” I was judged on my body almost instantly”). Unfortunately it’s their job. They did sign up for a career as a human coat-hangers and no none cares about what they think, that’s not what they are being paid for.

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