Boys Have Body Image Issues, Too
Raise your hand if you knew that boys can and do have body image issues. I never thought about it because all I usually hear about is the pressure girls are under to look perfect. I’m so busy wringing my hands about how my girls feel about their bodies that it didn’t occur to me that I should be just as concerned about the messages my boys receive about having the ideal body. Of course, they’re only 2, so there’s that.
A new study published in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics tells us that nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. That concern leads to an increased risk of a variety of negative outcomes such as depression, binge drinking, and drug use.
Although there were a few boys who were concerned about being thin (15%), most of them were more concerned with gaining weight or at least having more toned or defined muscles.
Dr. Raymond Lemberg, a clinical psychologist and expert on male eating disorders, spoke to The Atlantic for this article and says, “The media has become more of an equal opportunity discriminator. Men’s bodies are not good enough anymore either.” He suggests that action figures are the male equivalent of Barbie dolls in terms of the unrealistic body images they set up for young boys. They have less fat and way more muscle. “Only 1 or 2 percent of [males] actually have that body type. We’re presenting men in a way that is unnatural.”
This makes sense when you consider that movies and magazines portray men with impossible physiques: barrel chests with small waists, six- or even eight-pack abs, and perfectly chiseled arms and thighs.
As an example, I found many websites like this one and this one that are excited to show men what to do to get a physique like Chris Hemsworth’s in the movie Thor. Hemsworth gained 20 pounds of muscle for his role as the Norse god of thunder. What I found interesting was the focus on eating as much as 3,500 calories a day, something that no diet or eating plan ever has insisted that women do.
Which leads the discussion to why it’s sometimes difficult to see eating disorders in boys. The signs do not look the same as they do in girls. Whereas girls might use laxatives or induce vomiting to lose weight, boys are far more likely to engage in excessive exercise and steroid abuse to gain weight. But as this same Atlantic article points out, drugs like steroids are difficult to obtain. We should be more concerned about the unregulated and “natural” supplements and powders that are easily bought at stores like GNC.
Parents need to start having conversations with their sons to see what their thoughts are about their bodies and how they might be affected by media messages. We can no longer afford to think that body image issues are less of a concern for boys.
What do you think? Have you ever thought of your sons, nephews, and grandsons as being at risk for body image issues? Share your thoughts below.
Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog www.lilliebelle.org or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexis [at] goodenoughmother [dot] com.