Girls aren't the only ones who unhealthily obsess over their bodies. New research reveals that teenage boys are just as plagued by impossible "beauty" standards when it comes to body image, and are perhaps damaging their health trying to attain physical perfection. First of all, welcome to the club, boys! Secondly, haven't you been here for a while now?
Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine wondered if "increasingly muscular" media images and the availability of supplements affected the "muscle-enhancing" behavior of young people. They found out it did, with about 40% of teenage boys using protein powders and 6% of them using steroids.
In reporting on the study, The New York Times treated its findings as an indication of a new trend: boys have problems and are not immune to societal pressures of physical appearance. And it's widespread, with teenage boys supposedly using the tried-and-true girl tactics of sharing their multi-layered, self-imposed mindfucks and thus infecting other children:
On Tumblr and Facebook, teenagers post images of ripped athletes under the heading "fitspo" or "fitspiraton," which are short for "fitness inspiration." The tags are spinoffs of "thinspo" and "thinspiration" pictures and videos, which have been banned from many sites for promoting anorexia.
However, at the time of this writing, searching for "fitspo" on Facebook or Tumblr didn't bring up any results of teenage boys, but instead, posts by teenage girls of the typical "thinspo" variety (paparazzi shots of Nicole Richie, photos of Victoria's Secret models' stomachs, tips on how to not overeat at Thanksgiving, etc.). Also, were we really supposed to buy that teenage boys are aware enough of women's issues to even reference "thinspo" got themselves?
And if this is, indeed, some kind of epidemic, it's not that new. The story of how surprising it is that boys are putting their health and lives at risk because they suffer from body image issues is a trend piece that reappears every few years.
In 2000 it was called "the Adonis complex" after the book that identified the health crisis.
In 2004 "a growing number of teenage boys" were becoming body-obsessed.
In 2006, it was "manorexia."
In 2010, teen bodybuilding became an obsession (again).
And in 2011, "manorexia" was on the rise (again).
And now, in 2012, The New York Times is blaming TV for boys' body-image issues:
Many of these boys probably see themselves in Mike Sorrentino, "The Situation" from the "Jersey Shore" series on MTV, or the Adam Sackler character, on the HBO series "Girls," who rarely wears a shirt or takes a break from his crunches.
Suddenly six seasons of The Situation has more sway than hundreds of years of hot-bodied Renaissance statues from whence the term "chiseled" actually originated? Psh. If anything, those sculptures and paintings indicated how media images of male bodies haven't really changed that much, and certainly not in comparison to how often the ideal body for a female gets a revision. From Botticelli to flappers to Marilyn Monroe to Twiggy to J. Lo, the expectations of women's bodies drastically change. Women will never be able to keep up with how we're supposed to look because the connotation and definition of "fat ass" seems to change almost yearly.
None of this is to say, however, that men don't feel pressure. Our culture values the thin and the muscular, not the fat, and this applies to men, too. But hardly to the same degree; you're certainly not going to see fat sitcom wives anytime soon.
So while we can empathize with young men dealing with the anguish that can come with not liking what you see in the mirror, most guys will could never even begin to scratch the surface of understanding the widespread, crazy body image shit that goes on in girl culture. Until the extreme focus on one's physique becomes an inherent part of "boy culture," there's no comparison.
Image via Valeriy Lebedev/Shutterstock