Sammy Nickalls
Updated Apr 22, 2015 @ 11:39 am

In today’s society, there is increasing pressure to be thin, toned, and sexy. Cellulite, unacceptable. Extra weight, no way. And all of this can lead to a cripplingly unhealthy relationship with food.

Sometimes, it can seem like body image issues are something only women face. In fact, it can be easy to believe that all men feel comfortable in their own skin. . . but Sam Smith has given us a heartbreakingly poignant reminder that men have to face body image issues, too.

In a recent interview with 60 Minutes Australia, Smith bravely explained that for his entire life, he’s had a tough relationship with food. In fact, he explained that he struggled more with his weight and body image than he does with even homophobia.

Smith came out when he was 10 years old—he describes himself as a “gay kid, an openly gay kid”—and he’d always felt different as a child. “There weren’t a lot of people that were like me,” he explains. He was always comfortable with his sexuality, even though he was often bullied and picked on—including being punched in the neck and called offensive homophobic names.

But Smith was more OK with being picked on for his sexuality than for his weight. “I’ve accepted that, if someone calls me a f—-t, I am gay and I’m proud to be gay so there’s no issues there,” he explains to 60 Minutes Australia. “If someone calls you fat, it’s like something I want to change. Something I can change, so that affects me more.”

When the interviewer points out that he keeps bringing the topic back to his weight, he explains that he’s had issues with food and his body image for years. “From a young age, food has controlled me, basically,” he continues. “. . . When I was in school and not having a great time, or when music wasn’t going very well, I would eat, eat and eating would make me feel better. When I felt lonely, I would eat.”

Women may have to deal with body image problems and “fat” comments on a much more pervasive level—but Smith’s open and honest interview reminds us that men have to deal with the pressure to be physically perfect in society, too. In fact a recent survey by Today and AOL, found that 53 percent of men polled were insecure about their appearance, and nearly two-thirds felt they needed to lose weight. Meanwhile, an estimated 40% felt judged by their appearance. Another large scale survey found that male body image concerns have greatly increased over the past 30 years, with male rates now comparable with women. While these kinds of body insecurities can lead to unhealthy eating disorders, many men don’t seek the help they need to regain their self-esteem.

“Higher levels of gender role conflict and traditional masculine ideals are associated with negative attitudes towards seeking psychological help,” according to the National Eating Disorders website. The media scrutiny over men’s bodies, which has amped up in recent years, has only heightened the problem of male body insecurities.

When SiriusXM radio host Howard Stern verbally attacked Smith earlier this year, calling him “fat” (among other things) it was obvious how much Stern’s comments cut Smith to the core. He responded on Twitter:

According to ABC News, Smith has lost 14 pounds in 14 days last month, which has some of us concerned. (Sam, we think you’re perfect without shedding any pounds.) But we’re glad he’s speaking openly about this issue, which affects so many. Just as women need to feel their not alone in the struggle with body issues, men need to be able to talk about their insecurities, too. For them, the stigma of body issues is even more pronounced, and having someone like Smith openly addressing his own concerns opens up an important conversation about male self-esteem and combatting unhealthy thinking.

Watch the whole heartbreakingly honest interview here.

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