This Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’re reflecting on the male experience of eating disorders. This raises the question – what influences masculinity? Here, we explore the influence of archetypes and toxic masculinity, with a Jungian twist.
Whilst each person’s experience of being male will be unique to them, there are persisting ‘gender norms’ that set expectations for what it means to be a man.
It’s these expectations that mean that diverging from the norm can feel threatening or isolating.
When we look at the definition of man: ‘an adult male human being’, there is no mention of being “strong” or the “alpha-male” trope. When we look at the definition of masculinity: ‘qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of men or boys’, again, no reference to adopting “aggressive” or “dominant” behaviours.
Essentially, when we strip defining aspects down to their true definitions, they are pretty open for individual interpretations.
So, what influences how “man” or “masculinity” presents itself day to day?
Society, and more specifically, popular culture has influenced and shaped the expectations of what it means to be a man. Here lies, toxic masculinity.
According to The Conversation article:
‘The term “toxic masculinity” points to a particular version of masculinity that is unhealthy for the men and boys who conform to it, and harmful for those around them.
The phrase emphasises the worst aspects of stereotypically masculine attributes. Toxic masculinity is represented by qualities such as violence, dominance, emotional illiteracy, sexual entitlement, and hostility to femininity.
This version of masculinity is seen as “toxic” for two reasons.
First, it is bad for women. It shapes sexist and patriarchal behaviours, including abusive or violent treatment of women. Toxic masculinity thus contributes to gender inequalities that disadvantage women and privilege men.
Second, toxic masculinity is bad for men and boys themselves. Narrow stereotypical norms constrain men’s physical and emotional health and their relations with women, other men, and children.’
Ultimately, toxic masculinity has a lot to answer for when it comes to men and their mental health and wellbeing. These ideals are still present today, enforced and endorsed by the media, socialisation, generational influences, and academia.
When we think about ideologies or roles, Carl Jung’s concept of the 12 Archetypes comes to mind.
Carl Jung was one of the pioneers of modern depth psychology and psychoanalysis. His work explored the psyche and spirituality, and he’s famed for his development of “archetypes” – patterns that exist as a result of a collective unconscious.
Jung believed that though we humans are not defined by archetypes, the characteristics, symbolism and behaviours of each archetype can be found in all of us.
Here’s a recap of them:
- The Ego Types
- The Innocent – pure, naive
- The Everyman/Regular – “good” boy/girl, realist
- The Hero – courageous, winner
- The Caregiver – supporter, “saint”
- The Soul Types
- The Explorer – ambitious, seeker or new experiences
- The Rebel/Outlaw – disruptor, misfit
- The Lover – passionate, companion
- The Creator/Artist – visionary, imaginative
- The Self Types
- The Jester – practical joker, comic
- The Sage – truth-seeker, wise
- The Wizard/Magician – inventor, healer
- The Ruler – leader, powerful
Let’s leave judgement at the door and conduct an exercise. When we ask the below questions, who or what immediately comes to mind?
Someone with an eating disorder
It’s likely that for a wizard, your thought of a magical old, white male. The hero might have been a muscular, brave ‘alpha-male’ type. Perhaps the person with an eating disorder was a thin, white, young female?
This is a demonstration of culture influencing our understanding of what these archetypes ‘look like’. Ask yourself, “are these my authentic views, or have these been shaped externally for me?”
This grouping of archetypal traits can help us unconsciously understand how an individual behaves, but they can also enforce a shoehorning of how a person is perceived. Interestingly, we explored the influence of archetypes in last night’s Nurturing Hope event.
For example, ever heard of the “black sheep”? This could be coined with the “Outlaw/Rebel” archetype; usually, somebody who is a black sheep in a family will make actions and choices that may not meet the expectations of the family. They could be acting in rebellious ways, to shock or disrupt others.
However, what is not seen in this role, is the black sheep’s frame of reference – their feelings of being marginalised, scapegoated or misunderstood. Perhaps, despite their efforts to change or abide by family conditioning, they can never shift from this role because it is has been externally ingrained too deep upon their identity. Is it true to them?
How toxic masculinity impacts mental health
Toxic masculinity vilifies men behaving in ways that are socially deemed as “feminine” or “passive”. It also deters men from sharing their thoughts and feelings, and displaying a broader spectrum of more vulnerable emotions, such as sadness, confusion, or rejection (which, can we point out, are completely natural and human emotions).
So, what happens to the individuals who are not ‘allowed’ to express their authentic experience? Sadly, the statistics are sobering – many see a decline in their mental health, by developing mental health issues, such as eating disorders, depression or anxiety; and some, turn to suicide.
The male suicide rate was 15.8 per 100,000**, compared to a female suicide rate of 5.5 per 100,000**.
The eating disorder charity, Beat, estimates that nearly a third of a million men have an eating disorder in the UK. What’s more, hospitals have seen a 70% rise in male patients being admitted with eating disorders over the last six years.
“Ideals and norms of masculinity can leave men feeling that it is not ok to express vulnerability or weakness. A sense they must be fit, strong, muscular, stoic, together, independent. Qualities of self, such as weakness, vulnerability, needing others, emotional, empathic, qualities that are traditionally considered feminine can be stigmatised, perpetuating the norm, and leaving boys and men who diverge from the norm with an inner conflict.”
Andrew Seed, Orri’s Specialist Eating Disorder Psychotherapist and Lead of Men’s Group for male staff
For more on how damaging toxic masculinity can be, watch this BBC Ideas video here.
This is why for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we are calling on the community to remember your #BROS.
Our campaign highlights the importance of action, education, mindful conversation, and the opportunity that comes from challenging the narrative around how people can be impacted by an eating disorder. There is no “one way” to have an eating disorder, like there is no “one way” in being male, or “one way” in being an archetype.
Find out more about Orri’s campaign for Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023, here: https://www.orri-uk.com/eating-disorders-awareness-week/
As always, remember your #BROS.