I hate school. I hate my classmates. I hate my body. I feel fat…” These four lines had become a chant with a young 16-year-old boy. Finishing top-of-his-class each year, lead guitarist of his school band and part of the in-group - this suburban teenager was living the teen dream. But his six-foot tall skinny frame had a mirror that lied to him. In his eyes, he was fat. The weighing scale said he was 39 kg.
Male anorexia is a common urban disease. Research shows that 10 per cent of all males in first world nations suffer from anorexia. But the condition is affecting Indian men too. “Teenagers between the age group of 16-25, to be precise,” describes child psychiatrist Dr Umesh Mhatre.
Mhatre has been treating several school and college students suffering from the condition. Last year, he had three patients. This year, he’s already treated six. “Although each case is different, they all have the same symptoms. Negative body image, excessive workouts and obsession over food habits. The alarming part is that all are between 16-25 years old. Considerably, our young need help,” says Dr Mhatre.
Many refer to the disease as the Emo-boy syndrome. Emo rock is a form of music that emerged in the USA and members of these all-boy bands look the same - tall and skinny. Green Day, Nirvana and Silverchair are some cult examples.
“Most boys want to look tall and skinny, or get those flat six-pack abs. A lot has to do with peer pressure and images one sees. Travel within anywhere within Mumbai and you’ll see at least two images provoking you to either lose weight or get flat abs. In a 17-year-old’s eyes, there’s an instant urge to fit it,” says Dr Mhatre. “All patients say the same thing. We have fat on our stomach,” Mhatre adds.
Most young boys have distorted mental images of Twilight lead actor, Robert Pattinson, as the ideal or closer to home, Shahid Kapoor’s washboard abs, that they try to ape with excess exercise and crash dieting.
Boys also suffer from the notion that male anorexia is considered a weakling’s disease. Survivor Michael Krasnow, in his book, My Life as a Male Anorexic, describes being picked on by classmates in his college, who taunted him for his condition.
“They would round me up and poke me with sticks calling me weak and not manly enough. Their provocation motivated me to turn food away. I would go for days without eating and constantly fight to stay awake during class hours,” he writes.
Hollywood is full of male anorexia survivors like Dennis Quaid, Silverchair guitarist Daniel Johns, Peter Andre, and punk rocker Richey Edwards.