Figures of concern

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
More boys than ever before are going through body image "crises". The Children’s Society (UK) reports that more and more boys are unhappy with how they look, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

"For years, we have reported girls’ struggles with how they look, but the latest data shows the gap is narrowing as more and more boys are less happy with how they look.

"One in 12 boys aged 10-15 years are unhappy with their appearance. There could be all sorts of factors at play here. Some boys told us they feel pressure to go to the gym and that films, TV and social media all affect the way they feel about how they look."

Common Sense Media, in their 2018 report on body image, found that the proportion of undressed males in advertising has been steadily rising and that 33-35% of boys aged as young as 6 to 8-years-old indicated that their ideal body image is thinner than their current body. They also noted that the measurements of the male action figures young boys play with exceed those of the biggest body builders.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
There is little to suggest that the situation in New Zealand is different. Male images in movies, reality television programmes, video games, music videos and online pornography, and on social media and the sports field portray the sort of chiselled, muscular physiques unrealistic for most males.

So, the pressure isn’t so much to get skinnier but to bulk up, which isn’t to say that the number of young males suffering from anorexia or bulimia isn’t also increasing — it is.

These messages to be bigger, tougher and faster and to have the physique to match are little different to the sort of messages about unrealistic body shape that have been fed to young women for decades. However, boys’ body image issues have been flying under the radar for quite some time now.

So, what to do? It’s no use just bemoaning the sources of influence. Social media and it’s "influencers" are a fact of life and aren’t going to go away. So, as parents we need to modify and minimise these influences and help our youngsters manage that constant feedback loop of criticism that goes with the connections they also seek.

We need to be aware of their online activity as best we can and talk with them about the artificial world that it creates, the prejudices that are encouraged and the misconceptions and lies that are promoted.

Get them talking about what they’re seeing and get them asking the critical questions, running a critical eye across all and everything.

Note any negative body talk, any dramatic changes in their bodies and note what websites and online groups they might be frequenting.

Beyond that, we need to focus on health rather than weight and take care not to get into body-shaming of others ourselves, instead challenging stereotypes about gender and body types.

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