Our sons need more support with body image issues

There’s much talk in the media about the increasing number of boys suffering from severe body image issues, including anorexia nervosa and muscle dysmorphia, or ‘bigorexia’ – which often goes hand-in-hand with dangerous steroid use.

You may already know that at least 1 in 4 young people have serious body image concerns.

However, did you know that males are up to 4 times less likely to seek help than females?

There is some good news: we’re more aware of the scale of the problem, which means it’s more likely our sons will get the help they need. But the more informed parents, teachers and health professionals are, the better the outcomes for our boys.

Here are some resources to help you start the conversation about body image with your son.

This short video by eating disorder expert Dr Beth Shelton presented by Generation Next describes muscle dysmorphia – the ‘male’ body image disorder – and explains some of the common warning signs.

The following advice (specifically for boys) from The Butterfly Foundation, which focuses on developing a more positive body image, can help your son assess his attitude to his body.

  • Don’t compare the way you look to anyone else. This is being very unfair on yourself, especially if you compare yourself to airbrushed images of sporting stars, actors and bodybuilders.
  • Treat your body well. Exercising MODERATELY, eating nutritious foods and never going on dangerous diets will make you feel more alive and positive about yourself. You only get one body – treat it well.
  • Don’t try to be someone else. You are perfect just the way you are. Don’t put pressure on yourself to build, sculpt, pump or exercise your way into trying to look like someone else. You don’t need to change for anyone. If a certain mate or group doesn’t like YOU for who YOU are – they are not worth hanging out with.
  • Focus on the parts of yourself you like. Everyone likes some parts of their appearance. Try to focus on those and enhance them with styles or clothes you like.
  • Remember that people on TV and in magazines don’t really look like that. Photos of celebrities, musicians, actors and sports stars who appear in the media are airbrushed, Photoshopped and digitally enhanced. They all look the same and it isn’t realistic.
  • Go easy on yourself… AND your mates. You probably treat your friends well so what would it be like if you treated yourself with the same respect? Go easy on yourself and notice the difference. Support your mates by never bullying, teasing or putting anyone down. Be proud of who you are and appreciate the differences between you and your friends.
  • You are much more than the way you look. Have fun with the way that you look but don’t let it rule your life. Putting energy into the things you are good at, things you love doing and people you love being around will make your life fun and meaningful.

Download the full Body Image Tips for Boys factsheet here.

And parents, you can also help your son develop a healthy attitude to his body by:

  1. Avoiding diet talk. Dieting is the biggest risk factor for an eating disorder. Try to avoid talking about your “naughty” eating habits, or your weight and size.
  2. Talking to your son about the way he feels about the way he looks. And encourage him to keep talking about his feelings.
  3. Loving and accepting your own body. It may not be easy but being aware of your attitude towards your own body will help you be conscious of the messages you send to your son.


Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

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