Eating disorders are more prevalent in the LGBT community
It’s widely accepted that women are more likely to have eating disorders than men. But are lesbians, gays, and transgender people affected in the same way?
Many mental health problems– including suicide attempts, anxiety, and depression– have been correlated to the impact of stress, discrimination, violence, and stigma encountered by members of the LGBT community. Some studies have even shown the community is specifically at a high risk of developing eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.
However, further studies have shown that gay men are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders than lesbian women, but transgenders are at a greater risk compared to both.
Eating disorders as serious behavior problems
So what are the problematic eating disorders? Not consuming enough food and severe overeating are behavioral eating disorders that can negatively impact your nutrition, health, and ability to normally function. Being overly concerned about your shape or weight is also associated with this severe condition. Many genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors cause these serious behavior problems.
Symptoms may vary depending on the type of eating disorder, but these often include unhealthy eating habits, malnutrition, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight or shape. Unfortunately, eating disorders are hard to manage and can lead to other diseases associated with weight problems and malnutrition. The common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating.
Eating disorders in the LGBT community
With the above facts in mind, when the correlation between gender roles and eating disorders were established, it was recorded that gay and bisexual men were at a greater risk of behavioral problems because of the cultural pressure that comes with the hope of attracting their fellow men. Ironically, these were the same cultural pressures that heterosexual women experienced. On top of the social and cultural difficulties that LGBT people go through, especially around the time of coming out (such as fear of rejection, discrimination, and the discordance between biological sex and gender identity), gay men were also pressured to meet certain societal expectations of the ideal male body and were more likely to perceive their bodies as sexual objects.
Lesbian women who considered themselves to be feminine had a similar risk of developing an eating disorder akin to heterosexual women. On the other hand, androgynous or masculine lesbians were less likely to develop such behavioral problems like eating disorders. Moreover, masculine lesbians were more confident with their body, they didn’t base sexual attractiveness on standards dictated by society, and they didn’t need to seek approval from men. Since they were less susceptible to such socio-cultural pressures, they were more satisfied with their body and had a more accurate perception of their body weight and shape.
Unfortunately, transgender people were at a significantly higher risk of having an eating disorder among those in the LGBT community. Studies showed that there were additional factors and reasons why eating disorder levels might be so high for transgender people. Minority stress is greatly considered as a major contributor. Moreover, transgenders are more pressured to conform to societal standards of femininity and often develop eating disorders in order to suppress or accentuate particular gendered features.
In conclusion, gender identity greatly influences the prevalence of eating disorders in the LGBT community. People who identify as feminine are at a greater risk of developing eating disorders than people who identify as masculine. Gender identification are better indicators of body image issues and eating disorders than of biological sex and sexual orientation. When experiencing the pressure of wanting to fit in the spectrum of beauty and sexual attractiveness that each society has defined, just keep in mind that there are better means of achieving them, but not at the cost of nutrition and health.
- MedlinePlus: Eating Disorders
- Mayo Clinic: Eating Disorders
- National Institutes of Health: Eating Disorders
- Eating Disorder Hope: Eating Disorders in the Gay and Lesbian Community
- Out Saskatoon: Body Image and Lesbians
- Think Progress: Eating Disorders Significantly More Prevalent Among Transgender People, Study Finds