I was recently working on a resource list of fiction & non-fiction pertaining to Mental Health issues for a school board, and as I divided the books into their respective categories, I noticed something disturbing. While there were certainly some books with male characters that dealt with drinking, drugs, and even suicide, I discovered that 99% of the books pertaining to eating disorders had female characters.
Upon doing some research, I discovered that eating disorders and boys seems to be an almost non-existent topic in Kids/YA fiction. While women are more commonly affected by eating disorders (and culturally we associate them with girls/women) millions of boys and men suffer from eating disorders as well. Anorexia, Bulimia, and binge eating all occur in men, but where are these stories in literature? My searches came up with only a handful that dealt with boys and weight issues, and fewer still which was about boys with eating disorders or body issues.
So why aren’t these stories being written? Is it because eating disorders are perceived to be a female issue? Because men and teenage boys don’t ever feel self-conscious about their weight?
Puberty, it seems provides tons of opportunity for humour at the middle-grade level. We laugh about the awkward stages that both boys and girls go through as their bodies start to change. We nod and smile knowingly for having experienced it ourselves and embrace these books for both boys and girls.
At the YA level, the game changes, and suddenly we stop laughing at ourselves, and boys and body issues virtually disappear. What would a book like Wintergirls I wonder, if the main characters had been boys? What if there were a novel about two boys starving themselves to try and be the skinniest until one of them ultimately dies? Is there room in the YA market for a book such as that, and more importantly, if it did, would boys actually read it?