Women are not the only gender who are subject to pressure around appearance. All genders are exposed to confusing and toxic messages about how they are supposed to look in the eyes of society. Social standards to conform to a stereotyped ideal of various gender categories can take a significant toll on all people, but especially those struggling with Eating Disorders. This is because those with Eating Disorder tend to already experience some degree of discomfort with their bodies or their appearance.
Gender is an important issue to be explored in Eating Disorder treatment. Part of this is understanding that gender is a complex and personal issue, and not a construct that can be easily divided and categorized. Perpetuating the idea that eating disorders are just a women’s issue does a disservice to everyone. It is important for treatment providers to encourage conversations about the way that gender considerations affect us all. Bringing these topics to the table for discussion is a valuable way that treatment providers can create an inclusive and welcoming environment, an open forum in which gender can be explored. Therapeutic conversations about gender differences, pressures and other considerations must be a welcome part of treatment.
Additionally, it is important to inquire about the gender identification and preferred pronouns of all clients who enter treatment. By inquiring about this initially, it can set a positive tone that gender is on the table, and that the treatment environment will be welcoming and sensitive to the use of preferred pronouns. This can then carry over into the treatment milieu, whereby clients feel comfortable letting others in environment know about how they preferred to be addressed, and can share their experiences and perspectives regarding gender. Open dialogue about the various gender pressures that all people face should be a part of eating disorder treatment, and doing so in a mixed-gender treatment setting is more powerful. How could one thoroughly examine gender-related issues surrounding eating disorders in a gender-segregated environment? Rather than treating gender as an issue that separates people, it is preferable to bring it to the table as an issue that affects us all. In turn, all people who seek treatment will feel welcome in an environment that is gender-accepting and gender-inclusive rather than one that is segregated.
Matt Keck is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cielo House. Cielo House has worked hard over the past several years to create a gender-inclusive treatment environment, one in which all clients feel safe to be who they are and work towards their recovery.