Eating Disorders Aren’t Just For Women
The best thing about Glee is that despite the spontaneous song-and-dance routines, the unbelievable quirkiness of some of its characters (Brittany S. Pierce, you’re just weird), and the fact that trips to the dentist result in scene-for-scene recreations of pop music videos, it feels authentic. Ryan Murphy stays committed to this ideal: despite the fact that the characters are all attractive (albeit in a way that is relatable) they struggle with the same things as actual teenagers do: financial woes. Unrequited love. Body issues.
It is for this reason that the biggest conflict of the latest episode (a tribute to the iconic Rocky Horror Picture Show) wasn’t Will and Emma’s will they/won’t they relationship, or Sue’s attempt at backstabbing, or even Finn Hudson’s principal visit: it was something far more simple and undeniably universal: one of the character’s body image issues.
Cory Monteith (YUM) expressed concern when he heard that one of the male cast members would be donning an extremely revealing costume that the episode demanded; he put himself on a crash diet immediately, without even knowing if he would be the man to step into these….um, panties. If I know Ryan Murphy at all (and I think I do; we’ve chatted about our shared love of boundary-pushing show tunes many times in my imagination), I believe that he wrote this storyline into the script because he knew it would speak to today’s youth. Because issues with body image and the inevitable slew of problems that come with isn’t just an issue that affects women.
But I have to wonder: why is it considered cute when a male star like Cory Monteith changes his dietary habits and attempts to drop a few sizes? When his tiny costar Lea Michele lost weight, critics were quick to point fingers. What people need to realize is that men are susceptible to the unhealthy consequences of body image issues too.
A male friend of mine spoke about the pressure he feels from the media – which is basically to say, every time Matthew McConaughey sheds his shirt (standard), he feels the same sort of envy that almost girl experiences during Victoria’s Secret commercials. When I was younger, I had another friend who suffered from a male body issues, though to a more dangerous extent. After he spoke up in class about how he was recovering from a serious case of anorexia, it came as no surprise to me when people started referring to him as “manorexic.” At the time it made me angry that people chose to poke fun at such a serious issue, but I realize now that they didn’t do it to be cruel – they simply didn’t take a male with body image issues seriously.
The ever-present double standard is clearly in effect here – though in a few ways, it seems the women have drawn the longer end of the straw. Female body image issues have gotten a lot of attention, and because of this, people seem to be more sensitive to the issue. We’re slowly moving into a time in which multiple female shapes are celebrated (I really can’t imagine that Kim Kardashian would have been considered so sexy fifteen years ago), but for guys it seems that only one look is acceptable: tall, muscular, yet somehow lean. In short, if you’re not chiseled to Ken doll perfection, your body isn’t considered great.
Body image issues have certainly been tackled on television before, but leave it to Glee to put a fresh, undeniably relevant spin on it. Last season they addressed the issue in a way that was so obvious, it almost seemed forced and lacked the impact that the second installment carried. Mercedes’ discomfort (and eventual reconciliation) with her own body was an inevitable story line for a show of this nature. But I think it was incredibly brave of Ryan Murphy to put a good-looking guy in this position. When people see someone like the fictional Finn Hudson, a cute and popular guy with a pretty girlfriend (who comes covered head-to-toe in her own insecurities, but that’s an issue for another time), a person who actually does appear to be very much in shape, they realize that everyone has those days – even people who others view as incredibly attractive.
Not that Amber Riley who plays Mercedes isn’t beautiful, but the whole “curvy girl who is uncomfortable with her weight” is well-worn territory. Putting a person who resembles someone who most guys have wanted to be at some point or another in a position of vulnerability, on the other hand, sends a really powerful message.
I applaud the writers of Glee for picking up on the fact that male body image is a pervasive, complex, and important issue, and for doing it such an authentic and original way. If more of these initiatives are taken, it’ll only be a matter of time before the “manorexia” jokes are seen for what they really are: unfair attacks at a serious problem.