Body Image For Boys

29 December 2014

By James

Body Image – a person’s own opinion of their physical presence – forms an enormous part of how adolescents view themselves. Recent studies have discovered that, for the most part, people (and teenagers in particular) are increasingly dissatisfied with how they look. 54% of girls aged 13-19 reported dissatisfaction with their bodies, and for the most part the worst-affected by negative bodily image are teenage white females from upper-middle-class families in developed countries. The vast majority of media coverage on the matter is given over to the same demographic group. However, recent years and surveys have seen an increase of teenage boys suffering the same problems: the same study found that 41% were dissatisfied in the same manner.

Of course, the most widely-known disorders related to bodily image are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: the former given to eating very little, the latter to eating a lot and then purposefully regurgitating it. Both have the same end goal: to reduce one’s body weight or maintain it at a certain threshold. Both typically have disastrous results for the sufferer’s health. Both are inspired by a distortion of the sufferer’s self-image. Anorexia nervosa is true to the stereotype – females present the overwhelming majority of cases – whereas recent studies of Bulimia have suggested that somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of sufferers are male.

Perhaps an even more serious disorder associated with negative bodily image is BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) in which the sufferer becomes obsessed with slight or imagined bodily defects. This is often associated with depression, social anxiety and OCD, can exist alongside either of the previous disorders and can result in a preoccupation close to obsession, leading eventually to even more disastrous consequences such as, in extreme cases, suicide. Rather surprisingly, figures for BDD are almost equal between males and females.

While figures are similar for BDD, though, a closely-related disorder exists which is almost exclusively developed by teenage boys. Muscle Dysmorphia is an obsession with the idea that one’s body is not sufficiently muscular, again frequently without reason. This obsession develops alongside an underestimation of one’s own muscle mass, much as Anorexia Nervosa is associated with an overestimation of one’s body weight, and can prove almost as harmful. Sufferers of MD often engage religiously in muscle-building activities such as weight-lifting, which can consume time and energy at the expense of other aspects of life. Sufferers may also use steroids, which can be immensely harmful to health.

There are many theories as to why the rate of bodily dissatisfaction has risen so quickly in the last seventy years. One of the most prevalent is that the rise of mass media has presented wide access to ‘ideal’ bodies on television and the internet. Another is that the popularity of blue jeans has increased worries about the lower body. A third school of thought believes that these disorders have existed since the dawn of society, and that it is only the recent development of psychology which has labelled them as ‘problems’. Whatever the cause, the end result is definite: while minor physical insecurities in adolescents, male and female alike, are part of maturing, serious cases are a problem. Although little can be done to prevent these disorders, damage limitation is a strategy which must be explored: identification of the problem, followed by treatment to reduce the impact on physical and psychological health.


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