Reinforcing Positive Body Image in Boys
While girls are more impacted by weight and body concerns, this does not mean boys are not affected.
A depressing statistic indicates that 33-35% of boys ages 6 to 8 report that “their ideal body is thinner than their current body .”
Additionally, a recent study shows that 40% of boys in middle and high school exercise regularly with the specific intent of “bulking up.” 90% of boys the same age do so occasionally .
For parents, these statistics are frightening because they aren’t merely numbers. They are their sons.
Emphasize that Body Weight & Appearance Do Not Indicate Worth
Many adults grew up in a time where being overweight was considered unhealthy. As a result, parents felt it was important to teach their children that to be fat was bad and undesirable.
This message is problematic, as children are experiencing physical and hormonal changes daily. They can’t control how their body is developing, and they shouldn’t have to.
New research shows that size, for both adults and children, is not an indicator of overall health.
Further, the messages told, and modeled, by parents play an essential role in boy’s body satisfaction or dissatisfaction .
How you talk about weight, size, appearance, food, and exercise matters.
Teach your child how to eat food that nourishes them. Teach them how to move their bodies in ways that bring them joy. But do not teach them that their bodies are bad or wrong.
Do not model the message that how they look says anything about their value. Show them that how someone looks or what they weigh does not indicate their health or worth.
Fighting the Media
Television, magazines, advertisements, and websites are continually inundating impressionable young minds with messages that how they look indicates who they are and whether or not they matter.
Body image begins to develop in early childhood and exposure to this media puts boys at risk for body dissatisfaction .
While these messages carry weight, studies show that mothers still exert greater influence over their son’s than any other sociocultural influence . Use this influence to teach your son the difference between what is real and what is not.
Just as you explain to them that there is no monster under their bed or that a man flying through the sky in a cape is “pretending,” explain to your son that the way people in TV, movies, and magazines looks isn’t always real.
Children are often visual learners, therefore, showing them videos on how Photoshop or special effects work can be helpful in demonstrating that what they are seeing is an enhanced version of reality.
Teach Them to Embrace Differences
This lesson is invaluable. Teach your young boys to embrace, and value, those things that make them unique.
Children are continually seeking belonging and acceptance and wanting to fit in with their peers.
This is when social comparison comes into play, making anything that sets them apart from the crowd and insecurity.
Teach them that everyone has unique qualities that make them one-of-a-kind and that those qualities should be cherished.
Not only will they be proud of what makes them different, but they will also embrace others for their differences as well.
Now is a difficult time to raise children but remember that research consistently shows that how a child’s parents behave, and the messages they model for them, carry more weight than any other influence .
It may not feel like it, but you have the power to reinforce positive body image in your son.
With all of the other noise surrounding them, they are looking to you.
Don’t worry, you’ve got this.
About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
References: Knorr, C. (2018). Boys and body image. Common Sense Media. Retrieved on 13 Feb 2018 from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/boys-and-body-image#.  Drexler, P. (2013). The impact of negative body image on boys. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 13 Feb 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-gender-ourselves/201301/the-impact-negative-body-image-boys.  Ricciardelli, L. A., McCabe, M. P., Banfield, S. (2000). Body image and body change methods in adolescent boys: role of parents, friends, and the media. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 189-197.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on June 20, 2018.
Reviewed on June 25, 2018 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com