We may expect our daughters to struggle with this, but statistics show boys suffer from body image issues too.
In fact, when it comes to body image issues and eating disorders, males are four times more likely to go undiagnosed. How do you talk to a boy about body image issues? We have three simple tips.
Do boys have body image issues?
We always associate having a negative body image with adolescent girls but boys do spend a lot of time worrying about their physical appearances too. A boy’s body image concerns are slightly different than a girl’s, in that boys can be more worried about muscle enhancing behaviour.
According to Collett Smart, Mums At The Table’s resident psychologist, she’s heard boys as young as nine confess to being worried about getting a six-pack.
“Boys are abusing steroids, being obsessed with what their muscles look like, binge eating and purging,” says Collett.
In serious cases, such poor body image can lead to muscle dysmorphic disorder. Like body dysmorphic disorder, in which a person can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived flaw or defect, muscle dysmorphic disorder is when they can’t stop thinking about perceived flaw or defects relating to their muscles.
What causes a boy’s body dissatisfaction?
The media and social media are as much to be blamed for boys failing to develop a healthy body image, as they are for girls arriving at an unhealthy concept of a “perfect body”. But there’s a twist.
“Boys are surprised when they realise that media images are enhanced for men as much as women, particularly on social media,” says Collett.
The rise in the body positivity movement has done much not only in terms of recognising we all have different body shapes (and celebrating them), but in opening our eyes to just how much Photoshopping is involved to portray the ideal body.
The problem? Much of these have been focused on women and women’s bodies. This means boys don’t have as much of a chance of looking at an image critically. So these young boys believe the six packs and huge biceps are not only what they should possess, but are actually attainable.
How do you talk to a boy about body image issues?
Children very quickly pick up on what’s important to adults and therefore what they should value. So if you have an unhealthy body image yourself, it’s likely your child will develop a low self esteem about theirs as well. There are however, three things you can change right now—and they’re simply about steering our conversations away from body image.
In the video below, Collett discusses the three ways to help build up our boys’ self esteem and develop a positive body image for themselves.
1. Change your language
Watch what we say about a person’s body. What do we praise as a good body? This applies to both celebrities and our own family members. Most importantly, what are we saying about our own bodies, within earshot of our children?
2. Focus on character and emotion
Forget comments on body size or weight on them, us and others. This is a time to focus on their development and skills—the type of men you want them to be.
3. Emphasise health
In this video, Collett has more tips on how to have a conversation about body image with your children.
Where to find help if your child has body image issues
Australia: Butterfly Foundation
New Zealand: Youthline
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