So, my book just came out. It’s called Man Up to Eating Disorders, and it’s a memoir and self-help book meant for men and boys struggling with body image, self-esteem, fat shaming, and eating disorders. Surprise surprise, no publisher wanted it so I had to self-publish. When I completed the first draft and started sending it out to agents and large and small publishers alike, the feedback across the board was that the topic was good and timely, the writing emotional, but there was no market for it. “Good luck, but we pass.” You see, men don’t buy self-help books or memoirs. According to booksellers, we’re loners when it comes to our suffering.
Not exactly a shocker. As a therapist treating eating disorders, I see it every day. Guys hide their issues, try to tough them out, fix their own problems, and keep their loved ones and friends from having to suffer along with them. Or they’re just embarrassed to feel the way they do and fear the same kind of ridicule that probably came from their fathers, male role models (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you coach!), and friends. So the publishers were right – but only to a degree.
I think back to the books that ultimately informed me, moved me and challenged me to make changes in my behavior, ultimately recover from my eating disorder, and then inspired me to stay healthy. They were stories, not lectures. And they were real and meaningful. Men are notoriously bad listeners (just ask their mothers and wives) and tend not to have the best attention spans (ask their teachers) – part of why mine is a pretty short book. But we’ll settle in by a campfire, around a table or along a bar, and swap yarns satirical, poignant, heartfelt and personal. Name one movie about coming of age that doesn’t have this deep need to belong at its center, and my next book is half off.
The purpose of storytelling is to create a bond, to begin to feel like we’re part of a clan, a collection of souls. For much of my life, I felt marginalized time and time again dealing with my depression, anxiety, self-esteem, body image and eating disorder because the only material out there was for women. In the field of mental health, self-improvement and the like, this is still the norm. I, like so many, was told to “suck it up,” “deal with it,” and “man up” to my issues.
Men are left out, in the dark. This book is to help guys come together, create their own tribe, talk recovery in their own language. Straight, gay, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever your background – if it’s anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, compulsive exercise, steroid abuse or some combination of any or all of the above; we are all part of the same brotherhood. We are all dealing with the same core issues of belonging, perfectionism, control, identity, independence, and insecurity. We need to be welcomed by others – to feel the embrace of the tribe and move forward with our lives together.
I’ve had the great pleasure to work with an Army captain with bulimia, wrestlers with anorexia, stock brokers with binge eating disorder, lawyers with alcohol abuse and body dysmophic disorder, grandpas who never liked themselves or felt worthy of love, longshoremen who felt weak and un-masculine – men of every type who all are looking for some way to break the shame cycle of their disorder and find real connection to themselves and their loved ones. They are, in frank parlance, “manning up” to their issues by not shying away from them. Their stories have so much in common such as underlying neglect or abuse, untreated or under-treated mental health issues, and a paucity of ability to ask for help until now. In this book, they are now telling their stories along with mine. They are sharing their victories and hurts, triumphs and tragedies. We all need to do this.
So, my brothers, this book is for you. It’s now your job to spread the word. Share your story. Strengthen your tribe.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can purchase “Man Up to Eating Disorders” on iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or for an eBook version available in all formats visit: http://my.bookbaby.com/book/man-up-to-eating-disorders.