Disordered eating and body image struggles can affect anyone, regardless of gender. I recently sat down with Dr. Charlotte Markey — a psychology professor and body image expert — to talk about her new book “Being You: The Body Image Book for Boys” which comes out this week.
Kris: The minute someone starts talking about body image and disordered eating, most people immediately associate that with girls. But you point to research that suggests that 75% of boys want to change the appearance of their bodies. What are we — as parents and educators — missing about boys and body image? And why should we be having this conversation?
Markey: I think there are two things going on. One of them is that boys are not as communicative about these issues because we feminize [the topic]. So, why would they admit that they want to lose weight or they want to change their bodies when doing so would make them seem less masculine? During adolescence, many boys are already concerned about how others are perceiving them, and they want to become more masculine. So, that’s one side of it.
The other piece of it is that even we, as researchers, initially didn’t address these issues very well among boys because we were looking for the signs and symptoms that we had come to appreciate among girls. If you want to see if a girl is concerned about her body, you ask, “What would happen if you gained two pounds?” If she says, “I would be stressed out,” then you think, “Okay, well that’s not good.”
But you ask a boy that same question and they may say, “Nothing.” For years, we were like, “Oh, this just isn’t a problem for boys. They seem fine.” Because we weren’t asking the right questions. There are different questions we need to ask boys. A lot of them have to do not with losing weight, but perhaps with gaining weight and height and muscularity. When we ask those questions, then we see where the concerns are. We haven’t been looking for the right things, and boys were not talking about them.
Kris: What should we be looking for? I’m thinking about coaches, teachers, and parents. What are the signs that a boy might need more support or even potential intervention?
Markey: What can make it super tricky — and even medical providers…