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What about the Boys?: Addressing Issues of Masculinity within Male Anorexia Nervosa in a Feminist Therapeutic Environment

Soban, CatherineInternational Journal of Men's Health; Harriman Vol. 5, Iss. 3,  (Fall 2006): 251-267. DOI:10.3149/jmh.0503.251

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As a disorder, anorexia nervosa is associated mainly with young women. For centuries, girls have exhibited symptoms of anorexia nervosa and the disorder has exploded into a cultural, "female" problem. Feminist psychotherapy treatments address the problem of anorexia nervosa from a sociocultural perspective, which has been very effective for female patients. However, the number of cases found among men is rising and a gender-specific treatment that focuses on men's issues related to anorexia nervosa is not available. Psychologists must begin to look at anorexia nervosa as a cultural issue for men that has unique features and issues related to the social construction of masculinity. By incorporating these ideas into a newly adapted feminist treatment approach that also employs concepts of empowerment and acceptance, psychologists will be able to treat male anorexia nervosa more effectively and possibly change the social stigmas that have plagued anorexic men for so long.

Keywords: male anorexia nervosa, masculinity, feminist therapy, social stigma, DSM-IV

Anorexia nervosa is typically understood as a culturally motivated psychological disorder of young women, with 90 percent of diagnosed cases typically found in the female population according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.; DSM-IV; American Psychological Association, 1994). As a result of this association as a "female" problem, and the low incidence of anorexia nervosa in men, past research on the disorder has mainly been done with female subjects. Various ways in which anorexia nervosa can be treated are also part of this past research and these treatments mainly focus on the medical, psychological, and social conditions of female anorexies. Current scholars are now finding that this research on the many facets of anorexia may not be applicable to the male anorexic population, and consequently have implications for treatment of the disorder. Anorexia nervosa among men...