Talking to Your Son About Body Image

Talking to Your Son About Body Image

Body image problems in boys are common and often related to low self-esteem. Learn the causes of poor body image and the cures for it.

By Eric Leins, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

When you think about a young person with a body image issue, chances are you imagine a teen girl with an eating disorder. But boys often deal with body image issues, too.

Research shows that boys and girls are different in the way they handle their body image issues. So, while eating disorders are less common in boys, teen boys may still have low self-esteem or even a disorder like muscle dysmorphia (when someone perceives himself as overly thin and underdeveloped).

What causes a boy to have body image issues?
Lots of things. But for the most part it comes down to the following:

  • Body scrutiny and teasing. Research shows that children who were teased or criticized about their body are more likely to develop a negative body image.
  • The media. From fine art like Michelangelo's "David" to pop culture icons like superheroes and video game characters, boys are bombarded with the "ideal" masculine body type. The V-shaped body is what boys see in all those icons, so they assume that's how they should look too.

Is there a cure to poor body image?
In the traditional sense of the word cure, the answer would be no. But parents and role models can do a lot to help boost self-esteem and acceptance of one's body.

  • Everyone is unique. The truth is that a healthy body can come in all different shapes and sizes. Nature is all about variation, so there is no one "right" body size. Help boys realize that their particular body type is part of their own uniqueness and that individuality is cool.
  • Avoid bad company. Know your child's friends and how those friends handle body image issues. Best case, his friends will not seem overly concerned with "ideal" weight or appearance.
  • It's about values. Plato once said that what is glorified in a country will be nurtured there. The same applies to the home and the children inside that home. Show that you value - and openly reinforce - qualities of character more than physical appearance. There's nothing wrong with telling your son he looks handsome before he goes to school, but compliments about traits like his honesty, moral courage, patience, loyalty and effort toward an important goal are even more important.
  • Lead by example. Accept and affirm your own body. Openly talk about how grateful you are for your body's dependability and health. Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. The respect you show for your own body can translate into your son's respect for his.

If you feel your child is overweight, focus on getting more exercise as a family, doing fun activities like hiking, swimming or playing a game of basketball in the backyard. Also, try not to nag. Instead, make healthy meals, keep healthy snacks in the home and keep junk food out of the home. If concerns about weight remain, talk to your family doctor.

Sources:

  • Cohane GH, Pope HG Jr. Body image in boys: a review of the literature. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2001;29:373-379. Accessed: 05/02/2012
  • National Eating Disorders Association. Enhancing male body image. Accessed: 05/02/2012
  • National Association of Social Workers. Eating disorders tip sheet - families and body image. Accessed: 05/02/2012

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