The Frightening Presence of Eating Disorders Among Queer Men


Lena Rose/The Observer Sexual minorities face higher rates of body negativity and eating disordered behavior.


Historically, most eating disorder research has primarily focused on women, but recently there has been a remarkable trend among men that requires attention. Male sexual minorities (gay, bisexual and questioning) show higher rates of eating disordered behavior than their heterosexual counterparts. Though a significant number of heterosexual men still face eating disordered behavior and body dissatisfaction, men of sexual minorities face these issues at significantly higher rates.

In 2014, researchers reviewed data published from university health centers in the United States and found a striking discrepancy between heterosexual individuals and sexual minorities. Queer and heterosexual men shared the highest discrepancy; that is, queer men were more likely to report engaging in eating disordered behavior than heterosexual men.

A significant amount of research has been conducted toward eating disorders among sexual minorities, but some research reaches deeper into the root cause of the issue. Psychologists at Chapman University recently released data that supports the disparity in body confidence between gay men and heterosexual men. The basis of this review surveyed over 116,000 men from five national studies. As much as 40 percent of all men in the studies reported feeling dissatisfaction with their overall appearance, however, the data showed differences in how gay men and heterosexual men perceive their bodies in social contexts.

For example, gay men are 8 percent more likely to feel dissatisfied with their appearance in general, 15 percent more likely to be dissatisfied with their muscle size and tone and 10 percent more likely to feel uncomfortable wearing a swimsuit in public.

Moreover, gay men are 16 percent more likely to feel constantly judged on the basis of their physical appearance, 19 percent more likely to consistently think about their appearance, 17 percent more likely to compare their bodies to others at social events and 29 percent more likely to feel pressure from media to strive for an ideal body.

Gay and heterosexual men also approach sex differently because of their body perception. Five percent of average-weight heterosexual men reported having avoided sex in the past month because of their dissatisfaction with their bodies and 10 percent of obese heterosexual men reported having avoided sex for the same reasons. When asked the same question, gay men responded very differently: Twenty percent of average-weight gay men and 32 percent of obese gay men avoided sex. Gay men are at least four times as likely to let body dissatisfaction affect their socio-sexual decisions.

These behaviors and decisions do not always lead to eating disordered behavior, but always come out of a place similar to body dysmorphia. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a “persistent and intrusive” fixation on a slight imperfection or perceived imperfection of one’s body. BDD can manifest over any area of the body, even if the defect is nonexistent. Individuals with BDD constantly obsess over their perceived body defects, causing disruptions in their daily routines and functioning.

Dr. Elizabeth Clark, a resident psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services Rose Hill, sees two major causes of this phenomenon in the queer male community: male body representation in queer media and the male gaze. On posters in queer communities, queer magazines and queer television and film, the image of a lean, muscular figure pervades. Queer men of all body types constantly see these images, which almost forces individuals to view these bodies as the ideal.

The male gaze refers to the representation of women as sexual objects for a male’s pleasure. The psychological ramifications of the male gaze often manifest as body negativity, and it is not limited to cis-women; cis and trans queer men and transwomen are just as affected by this phenomenon. To demonstrate this point, Clark cited studies revealing that a smaller share of queer women exhibited eating disordered behavior. In contrast, demographics that are sexually attracted to men have higher rates of eating disordered behavior.

Though the causes of this behavior are prevalent, they are not the only sources of the issue in the male queer community. Clark emphasizes that psychological distress arises from myriad causes, and many are personal rather than systemic. Nevertheless, a culture that emphasizes body ideation can give an at-risk individual the extra push to manifest eating disordered behavior.

More info:

Fordham Counseling and Psychological Services: