Teen boys also risking their health in pursuit of unattainable bodies

Great, so that basically makes all of us, right? The New York Times reports:

“There has been a striking change in attitudes toward male body image in the last 30 years,” said Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatry professor at Harvard who studies bodybuilding culture and was not involved in the study. The portrayal of men as fat-free and chiseled “is dramatically more prevalent in society than it was a generation ago,” he said.

While college-age men have long been interested in bodybuilding, pediatricians say they have been surprised to find that now even middle school boys are so absorbed with building muscles. And their youth adds an element of risk.

Just as girls who count every calorie in an effort to be thin may do themselves more harm than good, boys who chase an illusory image of manhood may end up stunting their development, doctors say, particularly when they turn to supplements — or, worse, steroids — to supercharge their results.

Um, “may do themselves more harm than good” seems like a bit of an understatement. A new survey of middle and high school boys found that almost all of them exercised at least occasionally to add muscle and 40 percent regularly did so. Thirty-eight percent said they used protein supplements, and nearly 6 percent said they had experimented with steroids.

And it’s not just boys. As one of the researchers noted, female beauty standards have evolved too. “It’s not just being thin. It’s being thin and toned.” In fact, most of the girls surveyed were also concerned about adding muscle, 21 percent used protein supplements, and nearly 5 percent used steroids. “Strong is the new skinny,” “fitspo” is the new “thinspo,” and everything is the worst.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation