We often think that girls are the only ones concerned about having the “perfect” body but, as a mom of boys, I am realizing there are a lot of things we need to be saying about boys and body image.
Boys and Body Image
Recently I attended a conference sponsored by Dove. One of the things I love about Dove is their Campaign for Real Beauty which is geared towards helping women feel confident and beautiful in their skin so they can teach that same confidence and acceptance to the girls in their life. Together with their partners, Dove has reached over 7 million girls with educational programs and activities that encourage, inspire and motivate girls around the world. That is amazing and I love this campaign! But as a mom of boys, I found myself listening to these amazing stories that they are sharing, and wishing that boys had the same type of program. As a parent of boys, I realize that we need to get the conversation going about boys and body image.
What about our boys and their body image?
I have 4 boys who are all built differently. One of my boys is big for his age, and one is really small. I have always tried to talk to my boys about how being healthy is the most important thing and that all of our bodies are different. But I have also hurt as I have listened to the things my boys have been told at school. One called fat, the other too skinny, over and over. It really worries me that they will start to believe that their self worth is based on the size of their body.
These statistics are frightening to a mom of boys like me:
- 1 million males currently struggle with eating disorders
- 25% of boys reported being teased about their weight
- 4% of grade 9-10 boys reported using steroids.
It’s no secret that the adolescent and teenage years are complicated and full of awkward moments. If we happened to be lucky enough to forget those anxiety ridden years, we are reminded by watching our children go through the same process. Their bodies are changing and their voices are cracking- not to mention their love affair with body spray.
All kids experience this growth sooner or later, but for boys this development (or lack of) is especially noticeable. It can be painful to be the shortest guy on the team or embarrassing when you have a full beard at the age of 16. With all these changes, it should come as no shock that many of our sons wrestle with their body image on a regular basis.
Body Image Impacts Our Boys, Too!
For boys, this issue is often overlooked or completely ignored. Parents need to realize that young men are keenly aware of their changing bodies and have well defined ideas of what society deems desirable in men. It may surprise many people, but 41 percent of young males are dissatisfied with their bodies. That is almost half of our sons!
That being said, our children are being spoon fed portraits of “manly” men with ripped biceps and six-pack abs. Our kids are constantly observing commercials, movies, sports, and social media to understand the world around them which imprints these ideals early. This can be especially difficult for some teen boys to deal with, because they haven’t hit their growth spurts or they are stuck in an awkward transition where they are only arms, legs, and smiles.
The Influence Of Body Image On Teens
Puberty can fuel a lot of insecurities and create an inner struggle with body image issues. Poor body image has been linked to eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, early sexual activity, and substance abuse. While many parents are on the lookout for low self esteem in girls, many parents are oblivious to the very real plight of our young men.
Body image, unfortunately, impacts a lot more than how a child feels wearing skinny jeans or a tight shirt- it is essentially a mental representation of how our sons view themselves. It has the potential to influence behaviors, choices, self-esteem, and eventually their life plans! A boy’s self perception can steer how he interacts with the world around him.
If we fail to recognize the potential problems or understand negative body images, we are setting our boys up for failure. Our sons will be left to fend for themselves and probably take cues from social media, peers, and television about the physical qualities society values in people. We need to challenge ourselves so these aren’t the only sources of input about body image our sons are exposed to.
What can families do to help?
- Be a Good Role Model – Your kids are watching your lifestyle, eating habits, and the attitude you have about your appearance and weight. Have healthy habits and be careful of the words you use to describe your own body. As a woman, I know I have been careful to say things about my body around my nieces and other young women in my life, but I sometimes forget that the words we say affect boys as well.
- Keep Things Real– Teach your child that not everything they see in the media is real. Their favorite sports stars or celebrities have teams of people working out with them, preparing them special diets, and air brushing their photos.
- Emphasize Other Qualities Your Child Has – What are your son’s talents? Focus on the qualities they have that are not related to appearance. Do they like music? Sports? Art? Compliment them on those talents and acknowledge the things you love about them.
- Be Positive – Never make critical remarks about your son’s body. Encourage healthy eating and exercise and offer to do it with them. If your child is unhealthy and you are concerned, seek the help of a medical professional and keep the focus on being healthy, not being skinny, buff, etc.
For more information on body image and our sons, please read the following infographic:
What are you doing to help your son have a positive body image?
I want to thank Amy Williams, a fellow mom of boys, as a guest writer, for contributing information to this post as well as the awesome infographic. Amy is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health.
This post is a part of our series 31 Days of Tips for Raising Boys. Each day throughout the series we are discussing a different topic regarding raising boys. I’d love for you to follow along and share this series with other parents of boys who may need some support or just to hear that they aren’t alone in their journey of raising boys.
Check out our next post in the series: Preparing Your Bathroom for Potty Training Boys