The question with no good answer — "Do I look fat?" — will be at the center of a program on eating disorders, body image and the gay community.
Meghan's Place Eating Disorder Center and the Stanislaus PRIDE Center will present the feature-length documentary "Do I Look Fat?" at 7 p.m. Monday at Sierra Hall on the Modesto Junior College West Campus. There will be a panel discussion with director Travis Mathews and Stanford University Professor James Lock afterward.
Meghan's Place co-founder Signe Darpinian said a colleague recommended the film. After seeing the documentary, she was convinced.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, we desperately need a dialogue about this,'" she said. "A lot of my good friends are gay. They talk negatively about (body image) like it is OK, and that is very disconcerting to me."
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San Francisco-based filmmaker Mathews said body image issues and eating disorders are prevalent but unspoken among gay men.
Mathews, who has a master's in counseling psychology, began suffering from eating disorders as a boy. He said he began using food as a coping mechanism after his parents' divorce and when he realized that he was gay. Over the years, he went from binge eating to severely restricting the food he ate.
"It was actually a much more difficult struggle to come out about (my eating disorder) than it was to come out as gay, which I did when I was much younger," Mathews said. He began seeking help in college.
Men feel stigmatized by label
Since then, he has researched eating disorders among gay men. He found few resources and few people willing to talk about the issue. He said while women have been talking openly about eating disorders for the last 20 years, men still feel stigmatized by the label.
"Men in general, gay or straight, don't talk to each other about their vulnerabilities," he said. "The thing I kept discovering is that an eating disorder is so couched as a women's issue. So, many gay men don't want to be further feminized by being aligned with a women's issue."
But, Mathews said, it's a problem that can be helped. As people talk about the issues and more resources become available, people with eating disorders can lead healthy lives again.
"Talking about it and therapy help so much," he said.
The program is part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which begins today.
Darpinian said she was thrilled to get Mathews and Lock to speak at the event. Lock, director of the Eating Disorder Service at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, is a nationally recognized expert in the field.
Darpinian hopes the program will attract a wide range of people. Members of the public, health care professionals and students are expected to attend.
An appetizer reception will follow the screening and panel discussion at the Tiki Lounge, 932 McHenry Ave., Modesto.
"Our culture has an eating disorder. There is a preoccupation with our bodies and food that has become normalized," Darpinian said. "It is hard to be a man or a woman, gay or straight, in this culture and have a healthy attitude toward food and the body."