This issue has long been associated with girls, but it affects boys, too
Body image issues and eating disorders have long been associated with teenage girls. This population is bombarded with images in the media of skinny and photoshopped models, which can give girls an unrealistic expectation of what their body should look like.
However, girls aren’t the only group that struggles with body image – boys do, as well.
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, says body image issues and disordered eating patterns typically emerge in boys around puberty (middle school and high school). And, they often come with a stigma.
“I do think there is a stigma for males when it comes to eating disorders,” says Dr. Roberts. “More than that, there seems to be a stigma around males being too concerned with body image, and yet, there is societal pressure on males to meet certain physical ideals, like being very muscular. So, in a way, they are supposed to strive for a certain body type but hide the fact that they feel the pressure.”
Dr. Roberts says parents should be aware of the following behaviors that might indicate their son is suffering from body issues:
- Noticeable change in diet or exercise
- Significant changes in weight
- Changes in eating habits, like not eating enough food, overeating, sneaking food or bingeing
- Any significant restrictions of certain foods or food groups
- A child who seems to hide under very oversized clothes and/or refuses to take off bulky clothes in hot weather
- Negative comments about body/body image
- Being bullied about body or weight
- Use of supplements to gain muscle or any weight loss supplements
“Of course, boys might make good, healthy changes, and these changes may not be indicative of a body image concern,” Dr. Roberts says.
Similarly, the use of supplements to gain muscle is not necessarily indicative of a body image problem, he says.
Generally, Dr. Roberts advises parents to be aware of the reasoning behind their child’s choices and changes.
“It is also important for parents to guide their children when it comes to healthy diet and exercise,” Dr. Roberts says. “Pediatricians and dietitians are great resources when parents are unsure.”
About the Author
Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.