Eating disorders and body image issues are a serious problem, but they are not just a women’s issue, even though they are often reported that way. There’s still the unfortunate idea that it’s normal for girls to worry about their appearances, but that boys should be off doing sports and occupied with man-things and not worrying about how they look to the people around them. Obviously that is not true, and boys worry about their bodies and skin and whether or not they are attractive just like girls do.
A new study from the American Psychological Association followed 2,139 16-year-old boys for 13 years and found that distorted body image was a real problem for many of them. Boys who have a healthy body weight but perceive themselves as being too skinny or too fat are more likely to be depressed.
“These studies highlight the often under-reported issue of distorted body image among adolescent boys,” said Aaron Blashill, PhD, staff psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. “Teenage girls tend to internalise and strive for a thin appearance, whereas teenage boys tend to emphasise a more muscular body type. We found that some of these boys who feel they are unable to achieve that often unattainable image are suffering and may be taking drastic measures.”
Boys who identified themselves as being way too skinny, but who were actually average weight or above, demonstrated the highest level of depressive symptoms, according to the Daily Mail. In another study, 4 percent of boys who inaccurately thought they were underweight admitted to using steroids to try to fix what they thought was a problem.
It’s difficult to read about these problems and not feel an aching pity for these boys. Body dysmorphia is a real problem for many boys and men and should not be discounted or dismissed or treated as a “phase” they’ll grow out of when they “man up.” Unrealistic standards of beauty hurt all of us, whether they’re pressuring us to have a thigh gap or a rippling six-pack.