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.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/zugasaurus/ Laura

    It is troublesome how eating disorders tend to be seen as a “teen girl” thing. My brother (now 24) became anorexic several years ago; we planned an intervention before he figured it out and said he would try to be healthier. Still, at about 5’10” he’s still in the 130-140-pound range. It was really a relief that he was willing to help himself since there is very little assistance out there for men with eating disorders.

    It makes me wonder who in the world is deciding what the “ideal” body type is and why everyone else accepts it. We hear constantly about how even the models in ads don’t look like themselves due to Photoshop, and about how prevalent eating disorders and body issues are from chasing this unattainable goal, but it seems like it never stops being the “norm” (which I put in quotes because it seems to be a non-normal norm). I just can’t tell why it continues to be so pervasive despite the many efforts to inform the public otherwise.

  • http://feministing.com/members/femmystique/ Anjana Sreedhar

    Thank goodness we’ve finally realized how the media targets boys as well! While everyone is aware of how the media portrays women and how that affects young girls and their self esteem, not much reporting is done about boys. What with movies, TV, and games being more accessible to younger children, it is no wonder that boys want to look like the shirtless guys on the covers of magazines.

    What is worse is that this kind of media gives young girls and boys unreasonable expectations of each other. It seems that all guys want a skinny, toned girl while all girls want the big, buff guy. If those stereotypes perpetuate, it will be difficult for BOTH boys and girls to feel secure about their bodies.