• Boys and Body Image—Mighty Parenting 233 with Charlotte Markey

  • boys and body imageWe’re all well familiar with ads, TV commercials, and magazines full of tips and examples of how girls and women can get and maintain that “perfect body”; it’s an unfortunate staple of our culture uplifting one body type above all others as the “ideal.” However, that staple is not limited to girls and women only—there’s no shortage of movies, magazines and commercials outlining the “perfect body” type for boys and men as well. Author and body image expert Dr. Charlotte Markey joins Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler for a serious discussion on how conversations about boys and body image are important, how to be more open and show your sons it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes, and how to help them understand and become comfortable with their body type, whatever type that may be.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    “Boys had a hard time communicating about these issues … We need to start talking about our feelings and communication and why it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes.”

    High Points From Our Conversation on Boys and Body Image:

    Quote about boys and body imageWe need more discourse about boys and body image. There’s just as many media messages about body image for boys as there are for girls, but the issue has been feminized. Boys feel like it’s not a relevant issue so they can’t talk about it.

    Puberty makes boys more “manly” (taller, deeper voices, more musculature) so it feels more positive for them than girls, but they’re still dealing with changing bodies and trying to fit in with their peers.

    Due to media exposure on steroids, boys growing up feel pressured to have a superhero body.

    Charlotte’s talked with many boys before who don’t think they have body image issues, yet they spend inordinate amounts of time concerned about their musculature development, about spending time at the gym and eating enough protein and bulking up. 

    They’re concerned about appearance and the current ideal for boys and body image is lean and muscular, so many boys put too much effort into trying to develop that type of body, whether their own body type is suited for it or not.

    The lean and muscular ideal for boys actually parallels the expected ideal for girls—full breasts and hips, but also lean with some muscle. But those two things—being very lean and also very muscled—don’t tend to go together in real life, and celebrities and influencers who have those bodies maintain them through a regimen that’s not sustainable for a normal person.

    Be really careful who you’re comparing yourself to; even many of the people we compare ourselves to will admit that the extreme workout and dietary regimens they use (for example, actors prepping for movies) they only use for a limited period and after the movie or TV show or what have you, they don’t keep to that regimen any longer. 

    These people—actors and athletes and celebrities—have a job and many times that entire job is to look good (and be fit, in the case of athletes). So that’s what they spend their entire day doing; whereas our kids have school and homework and family and friends. It’s normal to want to look good, but looking good is not our job.

    Everybody’s body is different and has different ways of developing; this includes physical limits. Going to the gym a few times a week because you like exercising or socializing while exercising is one thing—and that’s a good thing! But going every day for hours to push your body into gaining muscle faster than it would naturally is not. We need to communicate with our boys about this and how to put together a healthy workout regimen that won’t interfere with puberty and the accompanying changes.

    Body image messages don’t just come from media and celebrities, they come from family and friends as well, whether we know the impact of what we’re saying or not: man up, don’t be a wimp. Those messages still translate as being a man is about looking and being a certain way.

    Social media is a large influence regarding girls and boys and body image. And we have more and more social media research suggesting the possible negative effects for both boys and girls. But that doesn’t mean we have to completely demonize social media, especially during the pandemic social media and other online platforms have been really important for young people in terms of connecting with their peers and even going to school and just getting information. 

    There is often bad information on social media, especially in the body image literature, the focus tends to be very negative. That we’re seeing body ideals that are unrealistic, which is true and is negative, but that’s not to say there isn’t something good that also can come with social media use. Social media is important—there’s still valuable connections forming, community building and information exchange happening.

    Issues regarding boys and body image is not just about how we frame boys and men in society and how they feel they have to look and be a certain way to be the male ideal—it’s also about mental health, and how they connect with other people. It’s about communication.

    We need to talk about feelings and why it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes, and provide a safe space for our kids to be vulnerable about these things. It’s not socialized or normalized that it’s okay for boys and men to talk about feelings, so they don’t feel like they can. They don’t feel like it’s okay to communicate. We need to normalize communication about these issues.

    How can we be supportive? Start with questions: How are you doing? How are you feeling? I noticed that you haven’t been eating bread. Is there a reason for that? Do you think that it’s a good idea to go to the gym every day after school? Is that affecting your schoolwork? Ask questions, be curious and open up ways to talk about these issues until it feels more normal and comfortable.

    We’re going to have conversations with our kids about potentially awkward and/or important topics. Here’s a tip: don’t set those conversations up as just one conversation. Adolescents are so in touch with pop culture—celebrities, movies, actors, songs—that it’s a great, innocuous starter or lead-in for these kinds of topics.

    It’s important that our kids start to understand that they’ll have to make choices as they get older, so it’s helpful to start asking those kinds of thinking questions now: What’s meaningful to you? How do you want to spend your time? What do you value? We want to make it clear that how you look is only a tiny piece of who you are.

    Many boys are convinced that to build up, they need protein-heavy diets. But that’s not the type of eating most appropriate for growing kids and teens. When we’re born and when we’re young, we start out as intuitive eaters, since we can’t communicate verbally. We then go to school and have structured food times and generally eat whatever our parents put in front of us or pack us for lunches. We learn to not be intuitive because of limited food availability, scheduled eating times, and culturally-specific food rules.

    We internalize these food rules and lose touch with what our bodies are telling us. What do we actually like to eat? What makes us feel good? When are we actually hungry? When are we full? Intuitive eating is about focusing a bit more on those things and a bit less on social and cultural norms—so we can enjoy eating more and worry about what and when we’re eating less.

    Parents, especially mothers, are used to having control over what their kids are eating. Intuitive eating requires giving up a lot of that control. For many of us, planning meals and making food is an expression of love, and our kids chaining what they want to eat can be hurtful. Don’t take it as a personal affront to you as a parent. Instead, try to come over to appreciating that your kids are trying to listen to their bodies.

    Stepping back on what and when our kids eat is rather necessary as they get older—but it’s also an expression of trust. You’re trusting them to make their own decisions, and you’re confident that they’ll make good choices.

    Ultimately, we need to be thinking about what we want; what is our goal when we ask for something and what do we want for our kids? The conversations we want to have with them are asking them, What do you want? What are your goals for yourself? Why are you doing these things? What’s important to you?


    Society and Body Image and Its Impact On Our Kids | Dana Suchow | Episode 32

    Diet Culture Is Harming Our Kids | Zoe Bisbing And Leslie Bloch Of The Full Bloom Project | Episode 127

    Weight Stigma And What It Means For Teens | Zoe Bisbing and Leslie Bloch | Episode 149

    Positive Body Image for Teens | Emily Lauren Dick | Episode 164

    Our Guest Charlotte Markey:

    Dr. Charlotte Markey discusses boys and body imageCharlotte Markey, Ph.D., is a world-leading expert in body image research, having studied all things body image, eating behavior, and weight management for her entire adult life (about 25 years!). She is passionate about understanding what makes us feel good about our bodies and helping people to develop a healthy body image. Charlotte loves to share her body image wisdom with others, and is an experienced book author, blogger, and professor at Rutgers University, Camden. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her son, Charlie, daughter, Grace, husband, Dan, and their dog, Lexi. For fun, she likes to run, travel, and read, but often spends her free time nagging her kids to brush their teeth or remove the cups and dishes from their rooms.

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit www.thebodyimagebookforboys.com.

    From Sandy:

    Are you stressed but don’t have time to deal with it? Grab Sandy Fowler’s complimentary lesson at http://sandyfowler.com/notime to find out how to start feeling better today.

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