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Body Image Issues: Not Just for Girls Anymore

photo credit: Beverly & Pack via photopin cc

I’ve never bought into the mentality that parents of boys have it easy compared to parents of girls. The teenage years, the theory goes, are hell for the girls and smooth sailing for the boys.

Oh, but if it were that simple!

My teenage years were relatively drama free, so I don’t see any reason to believe that every girl suffers in the same ways. We are more complex than that. That’s not to say that it’s easy to be a teen girl these days, but I don’t know why we dismiss the problems that boys face so readily. What about bullies, trying to be a man (whatever that means, right?), dealing with sexuality?

I think that being a boy has always been pretty hard, too.

But at least parents of boys don’t have to worry about body issues right?

Well, not exactly. 

I’ve already talked about male anorexia – unfortunately it affects boys too. But the New York Times had a recent story about a mainly male body phenomenon: The obsession with bodybuilding.

“There has been a striking change in attitudes toward male body image in the last 30 years,” said Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatry professor at Harvard who studies bodybuilding culture and was not involved in the study. The portrayal of men as fat-free and chiseled “is dramatically more prevalent in society than it was a generation ago,” he said.

While college-age men have long been interested in bodybuilding, pediatricians say they have been surprised to find that now even middle school boys are so absorbed with building muscles. And their youth adds an element of risk.

Just as girls who count every calorie in an effort to be thin may do themselves more harm than good, boys who chase an illusory image of manhood may end up stunting their development, doctors say, particularly when they turn to supplements — or, worse, steroids — to supercharge their results.

This is a tough one. It’s pretty obvious that for many reasons, children are not getting nearly as much exercise as they should. So if boys choose to spend their time in the gym getting physically fit, what’s the harm in that?

Exercise is great. Or course it is. But too much of anything, even a good thing, can be dangerous. As the quote says, steroids and supplements are even more harmful on developing bodies than they are to adult bodies. But to me an equally dangerous aspect of this obsession is psychological — just as with girls dealing with anorexia and bulimia. It’s heartbreaking that boys are measuring themselves to an “ideal” that is probably impossible to attain and that isn’t really the ideal. It’s sad that boys are bonding with each other by turning to body modification, that they measure their worth by the size of their biceps and the slimness of their waists.

What can we do to help our children, both sons and daughters, develop healthy exercise habits without having it turn into an obsession?

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