Sunday, April 3, 2011

Boys and Body Image

About a year ago I posted about BFAR and body image for the Body Image Carnival hosted by Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! and MamanADroit. It was such a wonderful experience to share my story, and to read the stories of other women and their body image experiences. The issue of body image plagues all women it seams. Not surprising in a society that equates beauty and sexuality with worth, and then defines that beauty and sexuality with an airbrush.

But what about men?

My little man is barely aware that he and I are two separate people, so I doubt he’s overly concerned with how he measures up to the rolly-polly blond haired blue eyed happy squealing babies on TV. But the experience of reflecting on my body image lead me to thinking about what body image will mean to my son in the future.

Naturally I asked my partner. When young boys see pictures of hulking muscle men with shiny abs and bulging pecks, does it make them feel not good enough? He doesn’t seam to think so. Or at least, he doesn’t remember having those kinds of feelings, or comparing himself to any masculine ideals as a child. I am a little skeptical, but in fairness:
This is what Superman looked like when he was our son's age:

And this is what Superman looks like now:

Women aren’t the only ones whose bodies are idealized, skewed, and misrepresented in the media. So why would women be the only ones feeling shamed and pressured by those images? I don’t believe that we are the only ones, so why isn’t their more talk about the ideal of masculinity that is being marketed to our boys, and the effects that these images have on them?

I am well aware of the behaviour that will be modeled to my son by the media. I find myself determined, if a little daunted, to raise a peaceful and respectful boy who treats women and all beings with kindness and mindfulness despite the fact that every TV show, album, toy, and game marketed to him will be working against me. Even so, until recently I hadn’t really thought about how the marketing of masculinity would effect how he feels about his body.

Will he see the barrel chested and over-muscled features of super heroes and action figures as something to aspire to? Will he compare himself with eerily hairless square jawed billboard models? I expect that he might, and I am unsure of how to prevent, or deal with any self image problems that may arise from the media’s version of what it is to be male.

Is guiding a son through all of these unrealistic messages about body and behaviour any different then guiding a daughter? If my son were a daughter I feel like I would be better prepared to do this, if a little overwhelmed by the size of such a job. But having no first hand perspective of my own about the effects of masculinity in the media I feel a little lost.

How does one help any child, male or female, find their way through the muddied waters of gender and body image?

*This post was originally posted on It has been edited and updated for repost here at The Connected Mom


DillyJ said... [Reply to comment]

I believe that any child, male or female, can survive the onslaught of the media as long as they believe in his or her self, feel comfortable in their own skin, and have loved ones who accept them fully (quirks and all).

However, that is easier said then done. After having read this article I turned to my greatest source on the male species: my brother. I brought up the topic of body image in the media and how it influences us women and asked how it affected him while growing up. He says it didnt.

The gist of it is, boys see and recognize the idealized male figures, they just dont seem to care. Sure, they would love to turn out to look like Superman, but it doesnt really bother them if it just doesnt work out that way. Yes, some men are more affected then others, but this also comes down to their own level of self-worth. A high level of self esteem is a cure-all to the media plague for both sexes.

These 'perfect' men are also more directed to the female population then they are the men. Apparently, us women are much more highly influenced by body image, men are influenced by 'toys'. The saying is usually 'men and their toys', is it not? :p

Also, boys tend to aspire to be just like their fathers. They see him as the greatest guy to become. And those without fathers (or those who have, lets say, 'difficult' fathers), look to another male role model in their life - whether its a brother, an uncle, or a teacher.

It seems that men have it right from the get go. They look to men they actually know and can talk to to look up to and admire. Not these men the media throws at us, the ones they see in magazines and on TV. Sure they look great, but boys cant physically talk to them nor know them truly, and this is their deterrent. Why look to a picture when their dad (or other male figure) is sitting right next to them? As I said, men have it right from the get go.

I can only hope that my daughter will catch on to this brilliance being surrounded by male cousins. :)

AidanTACKFW said... [Reply to comment]

At some point in his early teens, put him in a highly disciplined Martial Arts class with a strong spiritual aspect to preserve a sense of respect for others. It seemed to work for me.

JDiamand said... [Reply to comment]

Kind of in the same vein, always wanted to read Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Girls from Marketers' Schemes, but I have boys, so....

Julian@connectedmom said... [Reply to comment]

DillyJ - I see what you`re saying, but I can`t help but wonder how much of this not caring is actually the fact that we don`t generally, as a society, accept or encourage men to be anything less then strong and confident.

If it really does roll off their backs, what it is about the way we raise our boys that makes them so impervious?

@Aidan - Thanks brother, that's not a bad idea. I can only hope that Oliver has as much spark and individuality as his uncle!

@JDiamand - Thanks for the link! That definitely looks like a good read for me!

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