Last week, it was revealed that in his autobiography, Zayn, former One Direction member-turned-solo artist Zayn Malik wrote about his struggles with an eating disorder: “Something I’ve never talked about in public before, but which I have come to terms with since leaving the band, is that I was suffering from an eating disorder…” “I’d just go for days—sometimes two or three days straight—without eating anything at all. It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was.” “I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did.”
He is one of about 10 million men who will deal with one. Yet, we hardly ever hear stories like his. No matter how much organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association raise awareness, people still forget that eating disorders can affect anyone and everyone, including people like Zayn. That is why it is so important that he has said something.
Survivors of eating disorders, like myself, can speak up and try to be a voice for others who struggle, but it will never have as much impact as hearing it from the men themselves.
Yes, I am a straight, white woman, and yes I overcame anorexia. But eating disorders are not a white problem, or a women’s problem, or a heterosexual problem, or even an American problem. They truly do not discriminate. Not against age, race, gender, or sexuality. The underlying issues that cause them, such as a feeling of loss of control like Zayn described, are universal issues. So why is it so hard to realize that eating disorders are universal as well?
I think it has to do with our misconceptions about eating disorders in general. First of all, they are not brought on or driven by the desire for male attention. People seem to have this belief that these disorders will cease to exist if only women are reminded that “men like women with meat on their bones” or “real women have curves.”
Eating disorders are not about beauty. The pressure to live up to society’s standards of beauty can definitely contribute to the issues, but that pressure is never the only cause, and for some people, it does not play a role at all.
Take Zayn, for example. He is a man who is highly desired by millions of women. He clearly was not looking to please men or to simply “be beautiful.” When eating disorders are romanticized, we often think of fragile, impossibly small women with the belief that that fragility is a symbol of beauty. Zayn’s case does not fit that image. And neither do most cases.
The stress of being in such a high-profile band, along with countless other factors even Zayn himself may not be able to name, is enough to bring on the mental illness. It doesn’t have to be about becoming “skinny.”
Eating disorders are so complex, and when we chalk them up to simple, sometimes sexist causes that only apply to certain people, we disregard the fact that they can truly happen to anyone. Even doctors are guilty of this, and will sometimes not be able to detect that their male patients may have a very serious illness, because they are blinded by bias.
Photo courtesy of bustle.com
I have known men, even former boyfriends, that had or showed signs of eating disorders. But I could only recognize those signs because I have struggled myself. Most people, even if they were aware of the signs to look for, would not even think of looking out for them in their male friends, boyfriends, brothers, or even fathers. Simply because the media has conditioned us to believe that you have to be a woman, or at least a gay man, to have a disease that is “driven by looks.”
But if people like Zayn, a male, internationally-famous pop-star of English-Pakistani descent, speak out about their struggles and tell the world, that yes, people like us deal with these issues too, we can change the way we think about eating disorders, and also, how we treat those who suffer from them.
The more men who speak out, the more likely other men will be to seek help. I hope Zayn realizes the life-saving power he has, and uses his voice and his platform to speak out even more publicly.
Cover photo courtesy of ibtimes.com.au