by Jordan Perry, Elon staff
In February the SPARKS! Peer Educators (who rock) hosted Love Your Body, a weeklong celebration of positive body image, and I got to thinking about LBGTQIA body image issues and corresponding health outcomes. There are fairly common stereotypes that gay men disproportionately suffer from eating disorders, and assumptions that women who identify as lesbians just don’t care how they look. But wait! As the learned folk we are, we know how important it is to check our stereotypes and assumptions and find the facts. So I did.
Researchers from Columbia University took a look at rates of eating disorders in self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual men and women (LGB),* and at the association between “participation in the gay community” and eating disorder rates in gay and bisexual identified men. While I take issue with the assumption that there is one big gay community out there that we can participate in, this research was much needed.
It turns out researchers found that gay and bisexual identified men do have higher rates of eating disorders than straight identified men. According to the study, more than 15% of gay or bisexual identified men have, at some point in their lives, suffered from an eating disorder, compared to less than 5% of straight identified men.
They also found no differences in eating disorder rates between lesbian and bisexual and straight identified women. However, other studies have found that lesbian and bisexual identified women do have lower rates of disordered eating than straight identified women. What does this mean? “Research on lesbians and eating disorders has yielded mixed results.” Translation: they don’t know!
In addition, younger LGB study participants were more likely to experience eating disorders than older LGB study participants. Researchers attribute this to higher levels of vulnerability to “… sociocultural messages about appearance.” Translation: our social and cultural norms, particularly those in the media. So what do we do?
- Limit your exposure to media that depicts unrealistic body standards.
- Try to identify and cut down on “fat talk” in your social circles.
- Eat to nourish your body and soul.
- If you work with an organization that produces any marketing or promotional materials, think critically about the images you use and the potential impact on viewers.
- Advocate for Ellington Health Center clinicians to be trained about the health needs of LGBTQIA identified folks and to screen for eating disorders. To do this, contact Leigh-Anne Royster, director of health promotion and health services at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Researchers only surveyed LGB folks, so we can’t say for sure if these results are also true for the Ts, Is, As, and the Qs.