Though stereotyping may be less prevalent than in the past, the truth remains, male body image concerns are have been less emphasized in comparison to those of females. This is perhaps especially true of adolescence, when females can become concerned about changes in body shape or weight gain. Of course, the media plays a role in influencing how young people view themselves and this includes messages related to appearance. Gender roles still play a strong role in society and expectations, even though these roles continue to be challenged in different ways.
A new study has determined boys who see themselves as too thin or too fat are more likely to be depressed. The study looked at more than 2,000 male subjects from ages 16 to 29. Aaron Blashill, Ph.D., headed the study and has spoken on the difference gender can make in body image. Female teens would often like to be thinner, but male teens tend to seek a more muscular body appearance. The study also found male teens who were seen by peers as underweight and were bullied as a result were more likely to use steroids.
Blashill said there is not much widespread evidence-based research on treatment for adolescent males who abuse steroids. On a smaller scale, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be a reliable method for those already taking steroids or contemplating taking them. He advises those treating boys who are depressed about being underweight to watch for potential steroid use.
There are many signs parents can watch for if they suspect a boy is dealing with body image issues. For instance, perhaps a peer at school or a sibling has been teasing him about physical appearance. If a young person has a streak of perfectionism, this can also play a role. Another cause is if he has a body shape different from gender bias perpetuated in the media or by others close to him, such as a pear shape, also referred to as bottom heavy. Perhaps the boy belongs to an activity club or group where a certain physical appearance is preferred. Having a physical disability can also lead to such insecurities as well.
If a teen is overweight, it is important to remember there is still time to possibly change this through diet and exercise. By still growing and having a fast metabolism, it will be easier to manage weight now, versus later in life. Of course, the goal will need to be a healthy weight for one’s body type and not to be underweight. In losing weight, it can be tempting for many to often go too far as a result.
How families can help
Parents will be setting possibly the strongest example by being healthy themselves. This will help boys be less likely to succumb to messages about extreme dieting methods. If steroid use or anorexia is not already occurring in the home, then this can be a great form of prevention. Forms of media that promote outdated stereotypes about gender should be avoided. Parents would do well to explain how sports stars and celebrities attain the image they do. For instance, these people can have special assistants at their beck and call, such as personal training assistants, dieticians that plan meals personal chefs to prepare it and plastic surgeons.
Regarding the Internet, parents can help by keeping track of their son’s social media habits. Is there much time spent on websites that promote bodybuilding or steroids? The boy should also develop a healthy attitude about the opposite gender. Media can often present messages with sexual overtones, possibly in a way that objectifies women. Therefore, boys can benefit by learning about how relationships work and having realistic expectations about female appearance. Media messages should be seen as simply promotional tools for advertising sake, and not necessarily indicative of reality.
Mothers and fathers can also do their part by emphasizing that physical health has a number of important attributes besides weight gain and weight loss. Instead, adults can choose to emphasize proper diet and exercise in maintaining health. Getting proper sleep should also be a focus. If a teen is not demonstrating healthy eating habits, then he should not be criticized, as this could only make the problem worse.
Adults can also help teenage boys by offering positive feedback on more than just their physical appearance. Perhaps compliments on sense of humor or intelligence can help. Parents should also refrain from comparing their own child to others, as teens are already often focused on this enough. Reinforcing the media’s glorification of celebrities will usually only lead the adolescent to become more insecure about personal body image. At White River Academy, adolescent males can have the chance to build formidable life skills such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, confident self image and more. Please contact our admissions team today at 866-520-0905 to get started.