Before I ever had children, I promised myself that if I had a girl I would always be very intentional about projecting a positive body image, so she could pick up on my vibe and become the most self-assured woman in history. But instead of birthing the most badass chick of all time, I had two boys. Even though they weren't the gender I imagined I would be empowering, I realized very quickly that boys need the same type of messages. Boys aren't exempt from appearance struggles, and there are body image warning signs to look for in your son that can reveal underlying problems.
Historically, there has been more focus on the issue of body image as being exclusive to girls. But more and more research is bringing to light the degree to which boys are wrestling with their perceptions of male body ideals, and struggling with the feeling that they do not measure up. With a lean muscular physique as the accepted goal, boys may identify as too heavy or too thin from that midpoint. These feelings of inadequacy can lead to behaviors that parents need to treat like bright red flags waving in the sky.
Boys grappling with body image may not be as obvious as you'd expect, but you should trust your intuition if you notice any of these three body image warning signs in your son, and take it as signal that your boy needs your support.
1. Fixating On Muscles
For males, having muscular definition is seen as ideal, and not fitting into that box can have quite an impact. According to the American Psychological Association, a 2014 study found that boys who think they’re too skinny are at greater risk of being depressed as teens and as adults when compared to other boys, even those who think they are too heavy. This study also found that these same boys were at greater risk to use steroids than their peers. Look for signs of excessive working out, weight lifting, or fixation on a certain muscle group, like a six-pack of abs.
2. Worrying About Lack Of Body Hair
Whether it's that first little whisp of a mustache during puberty or growing those patches of fuzz under their arms, boys can be concerned about not growing body hair soon enough. As Kids Health pointed out, during puberty, body changes can cause some boys to feel unsatisfied with their appearance. To help your son cope with these feelings, remind him that everyone's body develops at a different pace — and once that body hair does come in, he has the rest of his life to deal with it.
3. Obsession With Weight Loss/Not Eating
Eating disorders are often associated with girls, and while there is a higher prevalence of the condition in females, 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life, according to the National Eating Disorders Association's website. Since eating disorders are culturally considered a "female problem," there is a stigma attached to boys who suffer from the condition. This often leads to many cases of male eating disorders going undiagnosed and untreated.
If you are concerned your son is not eating enough and trying to loose an unhealthy amount of weight, talk to your doctor about which steps to take in order to help your child get the care he needs.