Poor body image can affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. While negative body image and eating disorders are more common in young women, they also affect many young men. Research suggests that as many as 25% of people suffering with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa and 40% of people with binge eating disorder are male.
What is body image?
Body image is the way you think and feel about your body. If you have a positive body image, it means that most of the time you accept your body and feel comfortable in it. You’re also more likely to focus on the positive parts of your body and feel happy with the way you look.
If you have concerns that your son may not have a positive body image, it’s a good idea to look out for the following signs.
Recognising signs of a negative body image
According to ReachOut Australia, the following signs may indicate that someone has a negative body image:
- expressing that they don’t like their body
- expressing that they want to change their body
- feeling anxious about food
- focusing on eating, food, and body shape
- frequent dieting behaviour like fasting or avoiding good groups
- sensitivity to comments about body shape and weight
What can cause a negative body image?
According to the Better Health Channel, some of the factors that may contribute to a negative body image include:
- advertising campaigns and media featuring idealised male images
- promotion of the ideal male body as being strong, lean and muscular
- pressure for men for be physically tough and strong
- promotion of male sports players as role models for boys
Talking to your son about body image
The Raising Children Network outline the following tips for talking to your son about body image:
- focusing on your son as a whole person
- praising your son for his achievements and who he is as a person rather than his appearance
- helping your son to spend time doing activities that he enjoys
Being a positive role model
One of the other ways you can help your son is by being a positive role model.
The Raising Children Network outline the following ways you can demonstrate you have a positive attitude towards your own body:
- making healthy eating and physical activity an everyday priority
- avoiding fad or crash diets
- appreciating your body for what it can do
- accepting and valuing people no matter what they look like and not commenting on how people look
- being proud of things that aren’t related to appearance
Recognising the warning signs of an eating disorder in boys and men
Poor body image can be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration outlines some of the following warning signs of an eating disorder that can occur in women, but are more likely to occur in men:
- preoccupation with body building, weight lighting or muscle toning
- exercising even when sick or injured
- anxiety and stress over missing gym workouts
- lower interest in sex or fears around sex
- muscular weakness
- using anabolic steroids
It’s also worth noting that over-exercising and the pursuit of muscle growth are sometimes encouraged and seen as healthy behaviours for boys and men. Yet these behaviours can indicate an underlying disorder in some cases.
Where to get help
Websites and phonelines
The Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673. It’s a free and confidential service for anyone in Australia and provides information, counselling and treatment referral for body image and related issues.
Contact a Parentline in your state or territory. They can provide free counselling, guidance and support.
Seeing a GP
If you suspect that your son may be at risk of developing an eating disorder, you should get help as soon as possible. Seeing a GP is a good place to start as they can refer you to a health professional specialising in eating disorders.
Where your son can get help
If you son isn’t talking or opening up to you, he may feel more comfortable talking to another trusted adult or speaking with the Kids Helpline. The Kids Helpline is a free and confidential phone and online counselling service for young people aged five to 25 years. Your son can call them on 1800 551 800 at any time.