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How to talk to your son about body image

31 May, 2017
Talking to son

Girls aren’t the only ones pining for the shapes they see on the silver screen – boys and men are starting to feel the pressure to have the ideal, physical structure of a modern-day Adonis. In the space of 25 years, there’s been an increase of 30% in male body dissatisfaction, with desires and complaints ranging from being too small, too fat, or not muscular enough. Since 2000, the number of men opting for cosmetic surgery has risen by over 110%, with the most popular treatments being breast reduction surgery and rhinoplasty.

But first….

What is body image?

Body image is the way you perceive and feel about your body. Unfortunately, negative body image can affect anyone – no six pack or arms like tree trunks can help when your mind is actively trying to find problems or reach an ideal that may be impossible.

How does it affect men?

Men react to negative body image in a few ways:

Fad dieting – 17% of men are undergoing a diet at any given time.

Eating disorders – ¼ people with anorexia are male.

Exercise dependence – 20% of regular exercisers are ‘addicted’ to it.

Steroid abuse - 3% of Aussie teens use muscle-enhancing drugs.

That last statistic on steroid abuse poses a specific gender problem in body image, one that’s been colloquially labelled ‘bigorexia’. 

What is bigorexia?

In other words, ‘muscle dysphoria’ – an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which the sufferer never feels muscular enough. Those suffering from it might:

  • Have distorted self-image
  • Miss social events or work
  • Cancel plans to work out instead
  • Exercise despite injury
  • Perform extreme workouts
  • Develop strict high protein, low fat diets
  • Abuse steroids
  • Feel compelled to get cosmetic surgery


Talking to your son about body image


Be a good role model

If you’re constantly complaining about your own body, it’s likely your child is going to pick up on it and emulate. Understanding your own feelings about your body, and approaching it and any changes you make in a positive manner, will set a good example.

Positive reinforcement

A sidelong glance at someone’s second serving isn’t particularly effective. Instead, you can focus on the positive effects of healthy eating or proportional exercise – eating better gives you more energy, and proper exercise lets you move without pain or discomfort.

Talk about external pressures

Boys can see examples of muscled and ripped physiques everywhere they go. In the case of adolescent teens, boys who do get access to muscle enhancers are going to outstrip their peers in terms of size and musculature, so there’s added pressure to conform to visible group standards.

As far-fetched as it may seem, communicating to your son about realistic expectations and standards, as well as what real health looks like, can help them deal with peer or societal pressures to reach an overly-idealistic standard of masculinity.

Help them take charge of their eating habits

Taking the time to prepare proper nutritious meals, and taking the time to get your son to prepare them with you, can go a long way. They’ll gain an understanding of what foods are important, how they aid the body, and how long it takes to prepare a healthy meal.

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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