Stop saying manorexia.

This post is written in response to this Daily Mail article and comments from WIWT founder Poppy Dinsey. I hope my tone doesn’t come across as too combative towards her, because I lav the Poppy. As for the mainstream reaction towards anorexia? All of the combative.

EDIT: To be clear, Poppy did not use and has never used the term ‘manorexia’; that’s something I came across in the Mail. Not sure whether or not it originated with them.

manorexia debate YSL

Of the caustic terms that permeate contemporary debate, ‘manorexia’ is one of the worst. Anyone who’s read this blog is probably already aware of my disdain for the term ‘metrosexual’ (read why here), but manorexia is ten times worse. Barring a couple of isolated examples (postnatal depression springs to mind), I fail to see what gender, race or class have to do with mental illness.

I’ve never really had any issues with my weight, but I can’t imagine it being easy for men to deal with having anorexia. It’s traditionally seen as a feminine illness, to the extent that the ‘ideal’ anorexic body conflicts directly with the traditional ‘masculine’ body, i.e. broad shoulders, muscular arms etc. In this way, anorexia not only others you from your gender, but also from your sexuality. I say this as weakness and limp wristed-ness has been historically (not to mention ridiculously) associated with homosexuality.

To go one step further and label their *version* of the disease as manorexia feels seems to completely trivialise it – it reeks of punny newspaper headlines and the idea that ‘it’s like what girls get, only different’. It’s on par with labelling someone’s depression as ‘a bit of a downer’, or calling sexual deviance ‘just a phase’.

Although newspaper columns, Twitter and website articles are awash with women, and men (myself included), highlighting the fact that the trend of calling curvy women ‘real women’ is not only ludicrous, all too many social media users seemed to misinterpret Poppy Dinsey when she tweeted the following:

Poppy Dinsey manorexia YSL tweet
Despite being directed at the fashion house rather than the model, Dinsey’s tweet led to many of her followers commenting that the model looks ‘disgusting’, something Poppy later protested about. She has since tweeted me remarking that she spends a lot of time arguing that all women are real women. It’s worth noting that my response is mostly motivated by the Daily Mail’s response to the story (link at the top of this post) and the issue in more general terms.

Yes, the fashion industry has traditionally been dominated by underweight models. However, does that mean that their presence should be outlawed? Once upon a time, religion was compulsory – does that mean that everyone should now be Atheist? Homosexuality was once illegal and regarded as a mental illness, does that mean everyone should be gay now? Jumping from one pole to another is never a sensible way to handle something, because it always comes across as disingenuous. Not to mention how impractical implementing either of the above would be…Admittedly, these debates aren’t quite the same thing, as there is a medical risk associated with being clinically underweight.

However, my problem with the ‘real women’ debate and the ‘banorexia’ (a term I think I’ve just invented) movement is that it insists that skinny people aren’t ‘real’. By excluding size zero models, the mainstream media creates the idea that anorexia/thinness is wrong. We’re already seeing this force the culture to move underground. I hesitate to use the term culture to describe a group of people who have what is still widely believed to be a mental illness, but that’s what’s happening – ‘pro ana’ blogs, tweeters and Instagram accounts collate anorexic imagery and intensify it by making it the only point of focus, which is far less healthy than a media that features all different body shapes.

female body shapes

Please don’t take from this post that I’m pro-anorexia, because that’s not the case. What I am tetchy about is labelling a skinny male model ‘shockingly’ thin and ‘disgusting’, especially given that we know nothing about his mental state or eating habits, because it drives a stake between people (who may already be on their way to looking like this boy) and normality. Whether their thinness is due to extreme dieting or their genes, they may feel that they have no choice but to embrace an increasingly toxic underground movement that promotes anorexia as aspirational and beautiful.

Of course, the big comeback to this is that allowing images of extremely thin people in the media distorts young people’s perception of beauty. While that may be true for a tiny minority who already have a predisposition to eatings disorders, it simply isn’t true for 99% of people. I had the following debate with Poppy on Facebook, which I think bears repeating here -

Screen shot 2013-01-21 at 20.14.43
Evidently, I am part of that 99% – yes, pictures of Taylor Lautner, Zac Efron and all those dudes on Abercrombie bags motivate me to hit the gym harder, but never to the extent that I’d start taking steroids or gulping down raw eggs every morning. I’m sure the same is true of most women – they might wish their face looked a bit more like Emma Stone’s, or their rack looked a bit more like Beyoncé’s, but they probably just…well, get on with things because sometimes eating half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s is more fun than going to the gym. Something I know from experience.

brad pitt fight club body
One day, Brad. One day.

So what will help that 1%, the people who are susceptible to images promoting extreme thinness? It’s definitely not labelling them ‘freaks’ or ‘disgusting’. Once we know for sure that someone’s emaciated state is caused by crash dieting, it’s time to raise the idea that they may have a problem. But just as you wouldn’t tell someone with depression to cheer up, this can’t be as simple as saying ‘eat something!’ As for exactly what the answer is, I’m not sure. If I did, I’d probably be writing this piece somewhere a lot cooler than my blog.


  1. Joseph Kent

    You are completely right. One should not trivialise anorexia by saying men have “manorexia”. Equally, while I am not anorexic, I have always been self-conscious of my skinniness, and therefore I would hate to be called “disgusting” because of it, model or not.

    When it comes to eating disorders, I have learnt to be careful . My friends recently angered a ‘pro ana’ Twitter account (and its followers) by criticising the account for promoting anorexic body image. It is definitely a touchy subject, and I feel there is a lack of understanding on both sides of the debate.

  2. mat

    i think you make some very good points here and you can tell it’s coming right from the heart and a very caring place. i think a lot of people just don’t think like you and straight away jump to the age old conclusion of “errm, sick why are they using them” and not actually thinking about individual cases. i guess it’s easier than way.

    really well written

  3. Aisling

    I wholeheartedly agree with your points here, the word ‘manorexia’ needs to be banned. I think if for no other reason than for the sanity of those it affects. By emphasising the fact that it is a predominantly female issue, I believe, draws more attention to any male sufferers. It does trivialise their disease but it also makes it seem like a weakness. I think the word manoxeria holds far too many cutesy, girly connotations and that’s why it should be banned. It is an entirely separate issues than the one Poppy was trying to raise, but equally as important. There are a lot of issues concerning the fashion industry and body size but I feel the point here is to raise awareness of the fact that anorexia is not a gender specific disease, and you argue it well.

    Of all the friends I’ve ever had only 2 have had eating disorders (the full blown, not just worrying about putting on a few pounds sort) and they were both boys. One in fact permanently damaged his heart muscles, he will be on medication for the rest of his life, because he exercised for hours and hours each day on a diet of very VERY little. I think a lot more needs to be done to demolish the gender barrier for this disease, and great pieces of journalism from the Daily Mail certainly is not helping.

  4. Katie

    Really good post Stu. Completely agree that gender/sexuality shouldn’t matter when it comes to mental illness. The creation of these labels probably does a hell of a lot more harm than good – especially for people in that situation.

    Also, nice to read something which doesn’t slate skinny people for once! I’ve always been ‘tiny’ (if you can call a UK size 8 tiny) and have always had stick for it/been called anorexic. I eat like a horse and never exercise – why it doesn’t make me a ‘real woman’ in the eyes of the media, who knows!

    Katie x

  5. Amelia

    I feel for the poor guy because YSL have done nothing but manipulate a naturally skinny guy (nothing wrong with that) into looking like a waif. He’s all in black (slimming) and the angles and lines of EVERYTHING (cut of the jacket, the long scarf designed to draw the line downwards, the tight pants etc) are *designed* to make him look poorly rather than flatter him. Finally his darkened brows, hair (again the angular lines and curtains to draw the eye down) and pale, contoured makeup have made his face look very gaunt. He might not actually be that way in real life – but *photographed* in this manner, with the harsh studio lighting etc etc YSL have (knowingly, IMO) manipulated his appearance. I have no idea what the guy looks like in reality but ALL you CAN see the same tricks they will pull to slim any actor or actress should the airbrushing gods deem it worthy. I’m a size 12 and they could make ME drop a couple of dress sizes with the same things, for gods sake. It’s not fair. Not fair on the model especially. I would certainly be crying if I got my big break on a major fashion catwalk only to be decried as ‘horrific’ on the net.

    The trouble I have is that he has probably been cast because he is a naturally slim guy – and has been deliberately trussed up to look this way. The clothes do not flatter him. At all. And that is what bothers me. THE FASHION. It should be about BEING FLATTERING, and LOVING YOURSELF. That there are a million people looking at this image, boys and girls, with eating disorders that this image (and the controversy afterwards) will trigger – and YSL march a young model down the catwalk fully knowing they have manipulated his look to the extreme and have deliberately played to this caricature of ‘size 0 model’.

  6. Natalie

    I love that you mentioned the ’1%’ at the end. I wrote and designed a book called 1% about the addiction, the highs and the lows of anorexia. You want to be 1% of yourself. I even have a Pinterest board called 1%. It’s full of thinspo. (though not the thinspo I used to pore over night after night; not the ‘real girls’ of the forums and the Facebook groups of the lat 00s, when emaciated bodies began to look normal). These are models, beautiful, curated shots. They’re photoshopped. They’re art.

    ‘Manorexia’ is not a word. Anorexia is a disease, which affects more men than we know. And it is not feminine or girly. It’s snide, and cruel. Once you have it, you don’t want it to ever leave you; you don’t know how you would ever manage without it. There is no feeling of accomplishment in the world greater than looking in the mirror and counting your bones — that is, if you can acknowledge that you aren’t still three stone overweight (and that’s probably the saddest thing about it: you’ll never know how thin you really were).

    Watching fashion houses and the media’s comments on body image can only be so triggering. It’s like watching soft porn. It’s mundane. Usual. Who cares if a celebrity is on a diet or gained twenty pounds? They’re normal people with normal bodies. Not like the naturally tall and lean-limbed models, that’s why those people are selected to be models. I don’t think the responsibility lies with the media. They might be responsible for an impressionable mind flirting with the idea of starvation and purging, or maybe even trying a little chew-and-spit, but anorexia is a deep-set illness caused by an inherent problem (such as, what would you do if you realised you were never, ever going to be good enough for yourself, let alone anyone else? Ever?) — Anorexia is a condition, something far more powerful than any fashion house or media mogul could dare to take claim for. It’s insulting to the boys and girls whose everyday this is.

  7. Morgan

    Ugh, manorexia is the most dismissive term for a serious mental illness. There’s something about it that’s very jokey as well; I’m pretty sure the first times I heard it was as insults about the weight (but really the masculinity) of males. Coming into line with ‘metrosexual’ it’s this pervading idea that males who care in any way about their appearance are ‘other’ or ‘feminine’.
    I also agree with the point about models, and I think also that while in commercial situations like magazines – a variety of body shapes & sizes would be nice, I can understand choosing to only use skinny models on the catwalk because I feel that the designer wants your attention on his clothes and not the models, and having a uniform sizing of models helps to do that. It also helps when casting & rearranging who walks in what outfit etc .

    I also agree that it’s ridiculous that people think it’s okay to refer to people as “disgustingly” thin etc- I’ve always been on the thin side and I’ve had a grown woman line up behind me at an icecream place & out of nowhere announce “ugh, don’t pretend like that’s for you. You clearly don’t eat anything”. The strangest thing about it is that it’s widely accepted that making disparaging comments about an overweight person is rude, but widely accepted that similar comments to a skinny person are fine .

  8. Rhi

    There are a few issues here that could be debated separately and that I could talk about extensively!

    1. the term manorexia- singling out people who already have a low self worth is not going to help anyone. Anorexia is an illness and as you say, it’s not gender specific, so this craze of having to ‘man’ it up seems ridiculous to me. We shouldn’t be worrying about what gender an anorexic person is, but making sure they have the help they need to get better.

    2. Skinnier than average models. I don’t think it’s a great idea. There is being slim and looking great, and there is looking emaciated. If you are healthy and still look emaciated, that’s fine, I’m not saying you MUST be unwell to look that way. But for the majority of humans its not possible to be healthy and look that slim, so ‘advertising’ that body shape is definitely irresponsible. However these people shouldn’t be branded as ‘disgusting’ and we can’t assume they’re ill just because they look very skinny.

    3. ‘real women’ I fucking hate that term. I suffered with anorexia for a number of years, and I’m better now but I’m still slim, it’s my natural body shape and it makes me crazy when people say only women with curves are real women. I have a vagina, therefore I am a woman. END OF. Having boobs, a big bum, liking makeup and clothes, loving the colour pink- these attributes do not a woman make. A woman can have no boobs to speak of, never wear a scrap of makeup and like… football…. but providing she has a vagina she is 100% woman!

    4. I actually believe there is a difference between anorexia as an illness and ana as a culture. Like I mentioned, I have battled with anorexia but even in my worst days I absolutely hated ‘pro ana’ propaganda. The websites made me feel absolutely sick, the word ‘thinspiration’ makes me want to punch magazine editors in the face. Building a community around encouraging starvation makes me lose all hope for the human race. I suffered with anorexia as an illness, I suffered silently, I didn’t believe I was ill, I didn’t shout about the awful things I was doing to myself, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. People who run these pro ana communities know what they are doing and actively want to shout about it, and I feel like it’s a lifestyle they choose to live.

    To conclude (this is basically an essay so I may as well write a conclusion!) I agree that the term manorexia needs to stop. I also agree that we can’t brand people as ‘disgusting’ or ‘triggering’ just because they are what we believe to be ‘too skinny’. However I think care needs to be taken by fashion houses to ensure they are not promoting one certain body shape, whether thats tiny or huge, regardless of how healthy the individual model may be.

    aaaaand I’m done!

    • Natalie

      I like this comment.

      I used the pro-ana community language because that’s what helped me in the end… knowing there were other anonymous people to talk to and share experiences with and make light of the situation. There were the ones who tried to bring you down, but you just avoided them. There were also the ones who really tried to recover. I have since stayed in touch with a few of the women I met there. They are doing much better. It’s good to meet people and help each other.

  9. Martin

    Interesting that you mention photos of ripped guys motivating you to go down the gym – I think the popularity of a muscled physique perpetuated by the likes of Geordie Shore etc in recent years has had more of an impact on how I, and others, see ‘bodies’ than skinny models might have done.

    In the gay world, which is excruciatingly body focused (for the men, at least) it’s less of an idea that you see someone on the catwalk or in a magazine with the ‘ideal body’ and that effects you instantaneously – it’s more of a slow, enduring pressure that is constantly there, caused I think in part by the gay media, gay porn and clubbing culture. This longer term problem embedded into the scene causes me more concern for younger, perhaps more insecure men, than thin models. But perhaps that’s because I inhabit a slightly different life to the mainstream.

    Great thought provoking post as ever Stu.

    • stu

      I think I’m right in saying that it was originally in gay porn that very muscular men began to appear before it then filtered through to hetero pornography…

      If so, that would definitely reinforce the point you’re making!