Manorexia: serious issue, or copywriter’s wet dream?

I’m not sure where I stand on adding “man” at the beginning of words, but the copywriting masses sure seem to love it. The earliest example I can think of was “manscaping,” which showed up just about the time that style and culture publications like the New York Magazine just couldn’t get over the modern “metrosexual.” Terms like “hair removal” or “trimming” or “grooming” should theoretically be gender-neutral, but apparently they’re not. When we see the “man” prefix, it’s a pretty clear suggestion that the term is usually associated with women. So far we have seen “manscaping,” bristled at the unkind “manboobs,” suffered through the “hecession,” freaked out over the rising popularity of the “man-purse” and now we are learning about a new manffliction, “maneorexia.”

This week, New York Magazine published a bizarre little article about the trend toward thinner male mannequins. (Sadly, they were robbed of the chance to add “man” to “mannequin.”)  This trend is representative of increasing rates of male aneorexia, er, manorexia. The piece includes some scary statistics, like the fact that from 1990 to today, the percentage of eating disorder sufferers who are men rose from 10% to 25%, and that prevalence rates for women with eating disorders have not significantly changed over the years, but they are rising for men.

American Apparel boss Dov Charney is happy about the development of smaller mannequins: “All the mannequins out there are these beefcakes, and we can’t even fit our largest size on them.” This is not surprising since the largest waist size American Apparel makes for men is 33 inches. Today, the average man’s waist is 39.7 inches. (At least Charney is an equal opportunity offender?) No wonder men are joining women in the disparaging world of disordered eating.

I suppose in this case, calling it “manorexia” could be useful, calling attention to the fact that we normally think of eating disorders as a girl problem. It might also make men more comfortable with the term.  It could be embarrassing for a man to identify as “aneorexic” since the term is associated with women, so “manorexic” might feel better for men struggling with an issue that not only affects their eating and health, but challenges their gender identity. On the other hand, it could be dangerous to call it “manorexia” instead of just plain “aneorexia,” since the play-on-words seems to make light of the problem, as if it weren’t as serious as “real” aneorexia.

Normally this would be an interesting and relevant story, but certain elements of the New York Magazine piece caught my attention, and not in a good way. It says, “Next month, the British mannequin maker Rootstein debuts their latest male form—the ‘Homme Nouveau,’ feminized and not so hearty, with a 35-inch chest and a 27-inch waist.” [emphasis added]  What about the “Homme Nouveau” makes it feminine? Is “thin” one of those words that should be gender neutral but isn’t? Does the lack of “beefcake” muscle mass also denote femininity?

What compounds this question is the list of “Skinny Boys in History” randomly tacked on to the end of the article. Huh? (Could a journalist include a list of “Skinny Girls in History” at the end of an article about women, fashion and eating disorders?) The list includes a few modern celebs like The Strokes, James Marsters, Russell Brand, and The Horrors, who’s thinness could be connected to recent fashion trends and the trendy “string-bean” aesthetic.  But other “Skinny Boys” – fictional and historical – include Hermes, Jesus, Donatello’s David, Ichabod Crane, Gandhi, Fred Astaire, Mick Jagger, and others. Okay – hold up. Gandhi? The Gandhi who is known for his epic hunger strikes? Please tell me how Gandhi belongs in an article about manorexia.

If anything, this list of “Skinny Boys” completely destroys any progressive argument the piece attempted to make. If the “Home Nouveau” represents a recent trend toward male thinness, wouldn’t a list of thin historical figures disprove that this is a recent phenomenon?Calling them “Skinny Boys” is also diminutive – aren’t they men? Apparently skinny men are not manly enough to be called “Skinny Men.” But wait a second, Mick Jagger is on that list. If anything the list seems to suggest that some men simply are thin-framed, and it’s always been that way throughout history. I think it is important to acknowledge that “thin” is just one of the many body types men may have, and would argue that one’s femininity or masculinity has very little to do with their physical body type, but rather the ways one presents oneself through clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, speech, gender identity, etc.

That being said, there is something to argument that recent trends towards skinny jeans and androgynous fashion could be related to the rise in disordered eating among men. The fact that eating disorders are becoming more common for men is a serious issue that should be acknowledged and addressed. What we choose to call the problem (manorexia, male anorexia, or just anorexia) will speak volumes about the gendered ways we think about eating disorders as a society.

5 thoughts on “Manorexia: serious issue, or copywriter’s wet dream?

  1. I really want to believe that the original title for their article was (in their best Billy Madison voice), “Anorexia? More like MANorexia!” There’s no question that the primary purpose of this article was to push a new word into the zeitgeist, one that they could theoretically hold the copyright on (if I’m not mistaken.) The important information, as you said, is buried beneath layers of irrelevance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Gandhi referred to as a “skinny boy” by anyone ever.

    You’d think that, being a “skinny boy”, I’d be all about this trend. Finally, it’s my time to shine (though it’s still hard to find pants that are both skinny AND tall)! But there’s one important aspect of skinny-boy pants that tends to go unnoticed: They have decidedly smaller pockets than standard pants. Considering the fact that I frequently max out the pocket-carrying-capacity of my regular pants, skinny jeans are simply not an option.

    Regarding “Homme nouveau,” there’s probably some irony in the fact that a male mannequin with a more “boyish” frame is considered to be more feminine, since that term is so often used to describe women with less feminine body types.

    Finally, I’d like to express my amusement at the fact that one of this entry’s tags is “Dov Charney is a dick.”

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  4. That was pretty interesting. I just randomly saw your blog when I was busy with work on google. Anyway, felt the urge to tell you I like your blog and keep up on doin what youre doing. And don’t forget, enjoy the journey, don’t put too much emphasis on the destination. See ya, Kyle

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