What We’re Teaching Boys About Being a Man

The perception that eating disorders are still primarily a female disease and issue is still a prevalent misconception in our culture.

The perception that eating disorders are still primarily a female disease and issue is still a prevalent misconception in our culture.  Even within the eating disorder treatment community itself on almost every website out there the language used is geared towards a female audience.  As a result it isn’t surprising to me that boys and men put into question their own masculinity and what it means to be a man when eating disorders are presented as gender exclusive issue from the very community that is there to help and support them. It is difficult enough admitting that you have a serious problem and to reach out for help without this extra burden that as a culture we make them carry.

This leads me the fundamental question, “What are we teaching boys about what it means to be a man”?  Joe Ehrmann NFL coach, educator and professional speaker explains that the three most destructive words every man receives as a boy are “be a man” and the burden it places on young boys souls.  We tell them to separate their hearts from their heads. This masculine mandate represses the very thing that makes them human and boys are told to suppress it.


According to The Representation Project compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. The Mask You Live In asks: As a society, how are we failing our boys?

In his TedTalk, Joe Erhmann eloquently speaks about the three socialized myths or fundamental lies that are being fed to young boys about their manhood teaching them to associate their masculinity to:

1. Athleticism, size, strength and skill. The boys/men with these skills and capacity are elevated, given more value and worth.

2. Sexual conquests makes it ok to use women to meet their needs and becomes how many a way to validate some sort masculine insecurity.

3. Issues of economic success, job title, power and the amount of possessions one has is a measures who he is as a man equating self worth with their net worth.

As a result these lies produces a mental health diagnosis called Alexithymia the inability to put emotions and feelings into words. The American Psychological Association says that 80% of men suffer from some sort of Alexithymia, a result of never been given permission to emote and put words to their feelings.

So how do we redefine of what it means to “Be A Man” and re-direct the masculine soul.  It comes down to two things for every human being:

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1. What kind of meaningful relationships did you have? What kind of husband, what kind of person, what kind of partner, what kind of son, what kind of friend was I. Who did I love and who did I allow to love me?

2. What kind of contribution did you make on the world? How did I give back? What was your own unique cause in life and how did you make a difference?

“We have constructed an idea of masculinity in the United States that doesn’t give young boys a way to feel secure in their masculinity so we make them prove it all the time” – Dr. Michael Kimmel

I think and hope that the eating disorder community starts putting an equal focus and emphasis on male eating disorders and stop framing it as something that happens to girls and woman. Otherwise none of us should be shocked when males suffer silently, delay asking for the help and receiving treatment that they need and rightly deserve. There is no denying that the same unrealistic and impossible body expectations that women have faced have the same damaging effects on our male counterparts. As a society we must stop depicting men and women as objects and start acknowledging that we all share a desire for connection, acceptance and validation.  We all have worth and value not because we are female or male but because we are all human. So, the next time you see a young boy with tears rolling down his face show him some compassion and embrace all of who he is by letting him know that expressing his feelings is the real way to be a man!!!

Tina Klaus
If I'm not writing articles about recovery for Don't Live Small and other orginizations. I like spending time with the person who means the most to me, my husband of 19 years, Jeff, and our feisty dog Tulip in Denver Colorado. I am a contemporary artist with a background in graphic design and Marketing. I've personally struggled and battled with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder for over half of my life. As a result I too am bravely walking through my own bumpy road to recovery and creating a meaningful life that matters to me. Read Tina's ED Story Here . . . See Tina's Artwork at Creative Mix . . .  

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