Content warning: This articles deals with eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers.
Stevie was just 14 when he made a pact with his mother to lose weight, in a bid to get healthier together.
It was 2007 and Melanie Brazier had just been diagnosed with type two diabetes and was advised by her doctor that she would better manage her condition if she lost weight. Her 14-year-old son Stevie—who had gained weight following a motorcycle accident—was troubled when doctors referred to him as “clinically obese” on hospital charts.
“We enjoyed cooking chicken stir fries. Stevie was getting compliments and he was really pleased,” Brazier told The Mirror.
But things soon changed for the teenager, who was 187 cm tall and also had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Stevie started showing signs of depression and became obsessed with exercising. When he wasn’t exercising, he was binging.
By 2011, Stevie was throwing up 25 times per day.
“One day he bent over and his T-shirt rode up,” Brazier said.
“I noticed a roll of skin hanging over his bottom and his spine jutting out. It was a shocking sight and I gasped. He’d been hiding in baggy jumpers so I’d not noticed how much weight he’d lost.”
Eventually, a psychiatrist diagnosed Stevie with anorexia and bulimia—a combination with the highest mortality rate of any other psychological conditions.
Brazier and her husband couldn’t afford to admit Stevie into a full-time psychiatric institution. Instead, he started to receive care as an outpatient at an eating disorder clinic in southeast England.
The years between 2011 and 2013 were a blur of hospital admissions: scary blood test results, kidney failure, and on one occasion his heart had to be restarted—because when blood potassium levels are too low, the heart slows. Stevie’s pulse was as ‘faint as a 90-year-old’s’.
It was February 2014 when Stevie’s mother found him dead.
“When he wasn’t up by 10.45 am. I went up to his bedroom because it was unusual. I knew he was dead as soon as I saw him. Heartbroken doesn’t describe how I felt.”
The story is heartbreaking, and it’s not too far from home.
What if “body positivity” doesn’t work for you? Post continues below.
In Australia, eating disorders affect approximately nine per cent of the population, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Teens are the group at the highest risk, and the mortality rate for people who suffer from anorexia or bulimia is 12 times higher than the general population.
It’s a concern we address at schools and with parents—and so much of the conversation revolves solely around girls, for good reason.
Eating disorders represent the third most common chronic illness for young females, and 70 per cent of young women report body dissatisfaction, which can lead to an unhealthy obsession with body weight.
But while parents might watch what a teenage girl leaves on her plate, or monitor how long she spends in the bathroom after dinner, teenage boys are too often forgotten.
In 2009, research from the Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders found one in three male Year Nine students in Australia used fasting, diet pills, vomiting, laxatives and cigarettes to keep off weight.
“In Australia, we are one of the worst in the world [in terms of male eating disorders],” the foundation’s chief executive Christine Morgan told The Sydney Morning Herald at the time. “When it starts as young as Year Nine, you are getting very, very disturbing patterns coming through.”
How eating disorders develop in males and females is relatively similar.
According to NEDA, men—particularly young men—feel held to unrealistic body-image standards, which can cause anxiety that then can lead to obsession.
However, while academic papers suggest that 25 per cent of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are male, exact numbers are hard to pin down. This is because males face an added challenge: As anorexia and bulimia are so often thought about and portrayed as “female” conditions, men feel less comfortable talking openly about it.
“We know that under-diagnosis and cultural stigma mean that the actual proportion of males with eating disorders could be much higher,” the NEDA website states.
That means images of six packs, broad shoulders and six-foot-tall frames can be just as damaging to boys as images of flat stomachs, perfect breasts and impossibly long legs can be to girls.
The story of Stevie Brazier shows just how important it is to break that stigma—and to talk about body positivity and the dangers of eating disorders with all young people.