Body dysmorphia, anorexia and bulimia have been studied in women for years, but rare is an account from a man who battled the dangerous, distorted reflection in his mirror.
Out this week from Brian Cuban, the middle of two younger brothers of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, is "Shattered Image", his self-published account of cocaine, alcohol and steroid abuse, a brush with suicide, visits to a psychiatric hospital and three failed marriages.
All, he said in a recent interview, stemmed from the "monster" he began seeing in his mirror as a socially crippled teenager who was overweight and bullied, both at school and by his own mother, herself a victim of body-focused verbal abuse from his grandmother.
Cuban, 52, and the executive director of the Mark Cuban Foundation, said he managed to hide his demons until loved ones helped him into recovery about six years ago. Now, he fields emails from young people facing the same troubles, mostly girls trying to deal with shards of shattered self-images in their own mirrors.
"Even in 2013, the stigma is just huge for boys. You don't want to out yourself," said Cuban, who lives in Dallas. "I've had men come to me and say they're hiding eating disorders from their wives. They're afraid of losing their jobs. They're afraid of being thought of as gay. Not much has changed for men."
AP: You're just six years or so into recovery. Why write this book now?
Cuban: I just felt that there was a lack of understanding of male self-image and male eating disorders, especially body dysmorphic disorder. It is overwhelmingly thought of and portrayed in the media — and in research — as a predominantly female disorder. I wanted to be one of the ones stepping forward to help change that conversation. Nobody else seems to be. The process of writing was a big part of my recovery. Not just the book but on my blog. I came out as a bulimic on my blog. That was the first my family even knew of it.
AP: In addition to the book, what steps will you take to raise visibility on these and related issues like bullying?
Cuban: My goal is to reach out to college students to educate them about male body image issues. And to reach out to parents to hopefully start a new conversation about how to talk to your children and how fat-shaming can affect your child's perspective and get it out there that every child is different. Every child is born unique. When I talk to parents I hear a lot of, 'Well, I was bullied and I fought back so that's what I'm going to teach my kid.' That's great and maybe that will work for your son or your daughter, but your child is not you. Your child may not be mentally equipped to handle it the way you did.
AP: Tell me about your mom and your grandmother because your relationships with them caused you a lot of grief over the years.
Cuban: I had a tough relationship with my mom. And my mom had a tough relationship with her mother. My grandmother was from the old country, a Russian Jewish immigrant who came over. She was dirt poor, and she had her issues. She fat-shamed my mom and my mom fat-shamed me. It just runs downhill. It's nothing new. What changes is how you deal with it. My father was my security. Part of my recovery was dealing with that, and my mom and I have a great relationship now. You have to forgive. That doesn't mean you necessarily forget, but it helps you move on by releasing the emotion.
AP: You've had several key low points, including failed marriages, nearly losing your leg to a staph infection due to steroid abuse, suicidal thoughts involving a .45 automatic in your mouth and trips to the psych ward. What was the final turn to a healthier life?
Cuban: The last time I was bulimic was, I want to say, 2007. That corresponded with my final low point, when I had a two-day, drug and alcohol induced blackout in which I was unfaithful to my girlfriend. That had never happened before. We had just moved in together. She had gone out of town and when she got back there's alcohol and drugs everywhere and there's a prophylactic on the ground.
It was at that point that I go back to the hospital. I thought she was gone but she stuck with me and we've been together almost eight years now. It was that one moment where I said, 'You know what, if this happens again I'll be dead.'
I walked into 12-step. I put the eating behaviors behind me. I put the drugs behind me, but the thoughts are always there. With body dysmorphic disorder, there's no cure for the thoughts. It's only how you deal with those thoughts. Thank God for family who loves me.