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“But what about the boys?”

Frequently when I speak at conferences I am asked what our company, Enlighten Education, is doing to support young men. My response? Whilst we recognise boys also need positive, proactive programs to help them make sense of the changing world around them, we have decided to specialise in working with young women. That is not to say, of course, that many of the resources we offer (especially via this blog) would not help inform raising amazing boys. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have been asked to deliver my workshop on supporting teens to nurture respectful relationships with their peers, and navigate cyber world safely and responsibly, to the young men at Cranbrook School next week.

But it may surprise many of my readers to learn that aside from the issues we traditionally associate with young males (e.g: violence, substance abuse, reckless driving, and poor school performance) boys are also struggling with issues we tend to more readily associate with young women too. Especially body image.

In fact, a recent Australian Institute of Family Studies Growing Up in Australia survey, based on an assessment of 4164 children, indicated that boys are more likely than girls to diet and exercise to lose weight.

And boys also suffer from more extreme forms of body image dissatisfaction. The Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders reports that one in ten young adults and approximately 25% of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male. In this clip, Psychologist and muscle dysmorphia expert Dr Stuart Murray discusses the features of muscle dysmorphia; a newly identified psychological condition which is more common in males than females:

Jane Higgins, Enlighten’s Program Manager for South Australia, independently established her own in-school program for young men; The Odyssey Program. Odyssey’s workshops cover a variety of topics from masculinity to mate-ship, drugs and alcohol, girls and relationships, anger management and, yes, body image.

Jane offered me this insight into why her proactive work on body image with boys has become increasingly important:

“Just as the media rarely offers diverse images of what beauty in a young woman may look like,  it also presents a very narrow and one dimensional view of what a man should look, feel and be like and boys are responding to this pressure in unhealthy ways. The push for boys to appear muscular and buff is particularly problematic.  “Ripped, Shredded, Cut, Buff, Chiseled, Muscle up, Bulk Up, 6 pack Abs, Brutal, Clean!!” The way they are marketed to would almost have one think you were discussing a machine!

If a boy wishes to conform to this ideal, then he only has to turn to the “Health” food shops where he can buy “Bulking Up” drinks and powders. They contain ingredients that include electrolytes, amino acids, arginine, glutamine, caffeine and some contain nitric oxide and 1,3-Dimethylamylamine, or DMAA. It is like a glass of stimulants. Even more concerning is the research that shows that 3-12% of teen boys will use even more extreme muscle enhancing drugs including steroids.”

For more discussion on body image dissatisfaction in young men you may wish to read the following excellent articles:

Boys aren’t immune to body image pressures and never have been

The man behind the mask – male  body image dissatisfaction

Body image boosters for guys 

Regardless of gender, all young people deserve to be recognised as somebodies, not just bodies.

Published inEating DisordersEnlighten EducationGender stereotypingResources

4 Comments

  1. Jane Higgins

    Thank you Danni for highlighting The Odyssey Program and for the great need our program addresses. We work Nationally with boys to assist them to be the best they can be while supporting them to critically analysis the media’s view of masculinity. They discover that Masculinity doesn’t equal Musculinity! Boys feel compelled to be perfect to be accepted by their peers, girls and themselves and will engage in high risk taking behaviours to be seen as cool. Our workshops provide strategies, tools and ideas for a range of issue that young men face today. All the workshops are kinetically based and in line with best practise in boys education. We have recently announced our Parent Nights that have been highly successful too. We see The Odyssey Program as the boy’s version of the award winning Enlighten Education for girls. Contact me directly for more info on 0411 265 872 or see our website at http://www.odysseyprogram.com.au

  2. Rachel @ The Kids Are All Right

    It’s great news that you are taking this message to boys as well. I recently saw the video clip for “Call Me Maybe” and nearly died at the young man’s body they trotted out for that. It made me wonder what on earth boys must think when they see that. My teenage daughter tells me her male friends are self-conscious without a shirt. Thanks also for the added links – I’ll be sharing them with our readers.

  3. Catherine Manning

    Fantastic work, Jane. Over 20 years ago in her book ‘The Beauty Myth’, Naomi Wolf predicted that the beauty industry would soon set its sights on the relatively untapped male market with the same fervour it has on females, and she was right. It’s just as important to give boys the media literacy tools, as it is girls. Keep up the great work!

  4. Storm Greenhill-Brown

    I love the work Odyssey does. As a mum to 3 boys and one who is 14 i know they absolutely struggle with similar body issues to girls. Boys worry about, but don’t often discuss with their friends, how their weight, height and body development measures up to what they see as the norm. Who has more or less facial and body hair, who has a mono brow and what to do about it, whose school shirt makes them look bulky or muscular. These are only some of the things that are up for concern. Boys identify themselves as the nerds, the jocks etc. I find that body issues are not for out loud conversation but are internalized. I really feel Dad’s and other significant male role models need to get involved in the teen years more than ever.

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