Young Men Struggling with Negative Body Image

New research suggests negative body image can be a problem for young men just as much as for young women.

Young men are increasingly acknowledging body image issues as a struggle for both genders, with many secondary school boys viewing eating disorders (56%), dieting (55%) and extreme exercising (48%) as gender-neutral issues, according to new research by the advertising think tank Credos.

In the survey of 1,005 boys, 53% of secondary-school pupils said advertising is one of the influences putting pressure on them to look good – just behind friends (68%) and social media (57%).

Healthy or extreme?

Almost half of the secondary boys surveyed said they would consider exercising with the specific intention of building muscle and bulking up (48%) a fifth having already done this previously (21%), suggesting a concerning majority of 69% aspire to a muscular physique.

Some young men thought they might try more extreme measures to change the way they look. In particular, the 35% of secondary-school pupils who have suffered from bullying were more likely to consider using steroids (15% versus 6% of those who hadn't been bullied), skipping meals (15% vs 7%) and undergoing cosmetic surgery (18% vs 8%).

The communication gap

The relatively low awareness of boys’ body image issues amongst parents and teachers, coupled with a culture of boys not discussing their worries, makes it a tough environment for boys to seek support.

In interviews, teachers and parents suggested that it's harder for them to spot body image issues among boys. At the same time, 56% of young men themselves said they find it difficult to talk to teachers about their looks, while 29% said they would even find it difficult talking to their parents.

Overlooked for too long

YoungMinds Chief Policy Advisor, Marc Bush, said of the report:

"Young men's body confidence has been overlooked for far too long. With more boys feeling under pressure to restrict their food intake, exercise to the point of injury and even to take muscle enhancing drugs, it’s vital we improve the conversations we have with young men about their bodies.

Parents and teachers need to be confident in talking to their sons or pupils about body weight, muscle mass and how to exercise safely. When doing so we must emphasise that changes in body shape should never be pursued to the detriment of emotional health or physical wellbeing.”

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