A recent study has looked at how young men struggle with body image issues. There may be a general idea that young women are the only ones affected by unrealistic and impractical media expectations on body image, but young men are also affected.
A growing awareness of how body image struggles affect young people
There has been a growing awareness of how body image struggles affect young people. Preoccupation and insecurity with body image is a central cause of lowered self-esteem and has been linked to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and self-harming behavior. Within a culture that places such high emphasis on physical “perfection” through media bombardment, young individuals are often confronted with a self-identity which doesn’t resemble such unrealistic “ideals.” And young men also seem to be struggling with these body image issues.
These young display an increased risk of depression, binge drinking and unhealthy dieting
The study found that young men who are overly preoccupied with muscle building display a significantly increased risk of depression, binge drinking and unhealthy dieting. They are also four times more likely to use legal and illegal supplements and anabolic steroids.
Study clarifies that young men and boys struggle with body image more than previously thought
According to the study, ten percent of men may actually fit the criteria for common body image disorder – they think they are too fat and want to be thinner. More than one-third of young men have been on a diet during the previous year that was unrelated to obesity.
Struggle does not revolve around being thin
The struggle, however, does not revolve around being thin, as with young women and girls. The stereotypes seen in the media for men are different than small waistlines. Men are depicted as athletic and muscular. Big muscles are the parallel to cosmetics and thinness for men. This is problematic since most of the population have jobs and lives that are not supportive of spending hours and hours in a gym training as professional athletes do, which creates a conflict on what is desirable and what is attainable.
Problem arises when the bodies of professional athletes like Ronaldo become the ideal for regular young men who have jobs, studies and family
Trine Tetlie Eik-Nes, associate professor in NTNU’s Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science and author of the study says, “[t]he problem arises when the bodies of professional athletes like Ronaldo become the ideal for regular young men who have jobs, studies and family. Training has to be your full-time job if you want to look like Ronaldo [a famous soccer star]. He belongs to one in a thousand of the world’s population who make their living from sports. Some people train as if they were on the national team, but they’re only exercisers. This is the difference we need be concerned about.”
Studies have been carried out on young men too
“We’ve been aware of young girls and eating disorders for a long time, and how unfortunate it is to grow up with role models that are so skinny. Studies have been carried out on young men too, but they were asked the same questions as girls. Boys aren’t looking to be thin. They want to have big muscles. So the questions given to girls are totally wrong if we want find out how young men see themselves and their own bodies,” says Eik-Nes.
No attempt to advocate not working out
This article is not attempting to advocate not working out. Working out is a healthy activity that should be supported. However, the preoccupation with body image as an end goal, and the potential for it to take over young men’s lives could pose problems, especially in adolescence where self-esteem and identity may impact long term mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Drive for muscularity could be a sign that young men don’t have mastery over their lives
“This drive for muscularity could be a sign that young men don’t have mastery over their lives, but they may feel that they’re mastering how to work out. In this context, in simple terms, you could say that girls vomit, while boys are much more preoccupied with exercising than normal.”
Parents’ alarm bells should go off if they have a youngster who’s at the gym everyday
“Parents’ alarm bells should go off if they have a youngster who’s at the gym everyday, who just wants to eat chicken and broccoli and who consumes protein shakes or supplements all the time. If their whole world is about their workouts, parents should take the time to talk with them – for example, by asking questions about what they’re actually training for,” Eik-Nes says.
Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.