Body image issues do not discriminate by gender. Teen girls are not the only ones struggling with body image; Researchers say teen boys are also highly concerned about their weight and physique to the point of developing eating disorders, binge drinking habits and even drug dependencies.
Adolescent boys are holding themselves to specific—maybe even impossible—body standards. Whether it’s Superman, Spiderman or most any another superhero, they are being shown from a very early age that men with oversized muscles and lean waists are more celebrated in society than men with average builds. Already in their young world, they begin to become attuned to the pressure that appearance matters. This conditioning also affects boys as they grow into teens and young adults.
Understanding Adolescent Male Body Image Issues
As boys grow into adolescents, puberty strikes and body image issues may intensify. They may begin identifying with and idolizing the male figures they see on TV, as well as professional athletes they admire.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA) reports teenage boys who think they are too skinny may be at risk for depression and steroid use. Boys who see themselves inaccurately as overweight may also be at risk. Girls deal with the scrutiny of their weight for what can turn into the better portion of their lives, but often boys struggle with similar issues.
Size Determines Pecking Order
Whether it’s doing something unhealthy to get smaller or larger, size and shape often determines a pecking order for teen boys. Boys take extreme measures to bulk up, but they are also susceptible to developing anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders like binge eating that are commonly thought of as “girl problems.”
According to Dr. Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, “The trend toward weight obsession among boys is cause for worry.”
“Males are less likely to be diagnosed early with an eating disorder,” notes the National Association of Nervosa and Associated Disorders. When polled, a group of 135 males hospitalized for an eating disorder said they felt ashamed of having a “female” disorder, which may account for a lower number of diagnosed males. Ten to 15 percent of people battling anorexia or bulimia are male, however many experts believe this estimate to be an undercount.
Parents should look for sudden changes in their son’s eating and sleeping habits. If they are skipping meals or exercising to the extreme, there may be cause for concern.
Learning the Signs
Similar to the signs struggling teen girls who are trying to lose weight often display, teen boys may exhibit certain telltale behaviors. They may appear to be starving themselves, or they may be more likely to engage in excessive exercise and the possible use of illegal steroids to meet their body ideals more quickly than their bodies may naturally be able to handle.
Some warning signs to watch:
- Rapid weight loss or frequent changes in weight
- Preoccupation with food, body shape and weight
- Feeling anxious and irritable around meal time
- Excessive exercise
- Change in sleep habits
- Evidence of illegal substance abuse
- Signs of depression
Whatever the gender, struggling teens are not safe from low self-esteem and poor body image. Programs for young men to help combat negative body images such as wilderness therapy, along with strong parental support and communication, can help build positive self-esteem and negate the unhealthy obsessions they experience in society and the media.