Content Note: This blog post contains a discussion of eating disorders.
On Tuesday, February 8, 2022. the Dickinson community welcomed Jason Nagata, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to provide a lecture entitled “Boys, Biceps, and Body Image.” Professor Nagata joined us via Zoom; his presentation was screened for the campus community at ATS. This event was co-sponsored by the Women’s & Gender Resource Center, the Department of Psychology, and Women’s & Gender Sexuality Studies. The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues hosted the event in conjunction with this year’s Love Your Body Week on campus.
Jason Nagata earned a B.A. in Health and Societies at the University of Pennsylvania, a M. Sc. in Medical Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and a M.D. from UCSF. He also completed a pediatrics residency at Stanford University in 2016. He is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the International Association of Adolescent Health Young Professionals Network. He specializes in research surrounding eating disorders, body image, and muscle-enhancing behaviors in adolescent boys and young men. Professor Nagata also studies adolescent and young adult physical activity, eating behaviors, food security, nutrition, obesity, cardiovascular disease, screen time, HIV, and LGBTQ+ health. He has published over 150 articles in academic journals, including The Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Pediatrics. He is also the Senior Editor for the Journal of Eating Disorders (https://profiles.ucsf.edu/jason.nagata).
During his talk, Jason Nagata highlighted the stigma around body image issues in men. Oftentimes, society attributes body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and other body image issues to women. Less than 1% of medical research on these topics concerns men, when they struggle with these problems just the same as women. For men, they struggle with the expectation to look muscular and lean — a kind of hyper-masculinity — rather than the feminine expectation to be thin. Professor Nagata described this issue for men as a “shape concern over a weight concern.” He outlined how this behavior might present in some men, through overtraining, meal skipping, steroid or other performance-enhancing drug use, overeating proteins, and restricting carbohydrates and fats. In the cases Professor Nagata described, the patients often struggle with “Bigorexia” or “reverse anorexia”; they wish to become bigger or stronger than they are. Alongside this, these patients are often unconsciously struggling with muscle dysmorphia. Another issue Professor Nagata saw was Atypical Anorexia Nervosa in male patients at their clinic in San Francisco He cited one patient in particular who was previously overweight and faced bullying as a child because of it. As a result, he rapidly lost 50 lbs. through overtraining; he exercised for four hours each day. He offered this as a typical case, stating that about 70% of these patients have prior history with obesity.
While many factors contribute to an individual’s struggle with eating disorders and body image issues, such as bullying, Professor Nagata referenced popular culture and social media as sites which exacerbate these matters. Over the past 30 years, male action figures have become leaner and more muscular, which influences how boys understand the “ideal male figure” as such a young age. Additionally, social media offers another troubling place for men to take in unconscious influences. Toxic social media behavior, such as filters, photoshopping, and face tuning, has been shown to be harmful for women, but they are extremely harmful to men as well. Men are more likely to pose and post full-body photos, as opposed to zoomed in selfies, that highlight their enhanced muscularity. This behavior becomes such a stark problem as men, and women endlessly scroll on these apps without thought of the harmful beauty standards they are absorbing. There has been a strong increase in social media consumption, social isolation, and heightened anxiety, which can all contribute to harmful eating and body image behaviors. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reported a 78% uptick in cases in the past year. Looking to current and future research, Professor Nagata will be studying these issues and their effects, as well as studying eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community. His research is extremely important in shedding light on those may be struggling and raising awareness to these issues in order to help provide social and systematic support to these individuals in the future.
Important Resources for Anyone Who May be Struggling:
National Eating Disorder Association Hotlines –
- To Text: 800-931-2237
o Hours: Monday-Thursday 3pm-6pm ET, Friday 1pm-5pm ET
- To Call: 800-931-2237
o Hours – Monday-Thursday 11am-9pm ET, Friday 11am-5pm ET
- If you are in a crisis and need help immediately, text “NEDA” to 741741to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
- Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message to individuals who are struggling with mental health, including eating disorders, and are experiencing crisis situations.
Written by Grace Moore ’22, WGRC Student Worker