Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Sunday Reflections: Let’s Hear it For The Boys- Low Self Esteem and Body Image

Karen wrote a wonderful post on tween and teen self esteem and sex in advertising on the female end.  If you haven’t read it, DO SO.

But you have to wonder, WHAT ABOUT THE BOYS?

It’s not just girls who are getting the messages that the media portrays.  Boys are bombarded with the same Photoshopped perfection images in advertisements, the same impossible body goals and ideals of “hotness” from leading actors and models, and the standards of fitness and physique that athletes have.  We live in a culture where the guys who aren’t living up to Greek and Roman god standards are the ones who are shoved into lockers and bathrooms, the ones who aren’t in the highest cliques in schools are destined to be miserable, and all of this hits during their first growth spurts, when they’re going to be shorter than the girls and having zits.   

According to dosomething.org:

  • Teenage boys can be prone to obsessive exercising, binge eating, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, steroid abuse, and diet aid abuse.
  • Recent years have seen a significant increase in body dysmorphia in teen boys. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a psychiatric disorder in which the affected person is excessively concerned about an imagined or minor defect in their physical features.
  • It is estimated that about 45% of Western men are unhappy with their bodies – 25 years ago, only 15% were unhappy with their bodies.  

Librarians all over social media were upset about a cookie commercial.  Uh-huh.  But take a minute and think about the male images that you were bombarded with.  Two recent ones popped up during the Super Bowl- The Calvin Klein commercial that is definitely exploiting men, and really, will only Doritos Daddy get to play dress up with his daughter?

And for examples of the culture, the examples of how Merriam-Webster uses “man” in sentences (emphasis theirs):

  1. He was a shy boy, but he grew to be a strong and confident man.
  2. He’s a grown man now.
  3. The movie is popular with men and women.
  4. Don’t cry, little boy: be a man!
  5. Are you man enough to meet the challenge?

And book covers aren’t much better.  We’ve talked about girls on covers, but what about the boys?  Granted, these are all in the fantasy/paranormal genre, and work with the stories, but if this is what the girls (and guys) are swooning over, then that’s what you have to aim for, right?  (guilty admission:  I immediately thought of these covers in less than 5 minutes.  Share yours in the comments.)

And teen actors who, while having to keep their bodies in shape for their roles and chosen careers, are being held up as a standard to aim for…

There is another more subtle effect that all these images have:  they also bombard teens with ideas about what they should be attracted to.  The suggestions about what kind of body or behavior is desirable also imply that those who do not meet the criteria are undesirable.  How many stories have you read about a teen (male or female) who is attracted to someone who looks and acts like the commercials, only to discover that said object of attraction is hopelessly shallow, or only to experience firsthand the conflict between the reality of what is attractive versus the societal illusion of what should be attractive?  How often does the boy get the girl with hairy legs or the boy without any abs at all?  Or what about those who are attracted to those of the same gender? Or who are in the wrong body for their gender identity?  If any of these situations are even close to these ads, they’re the punch line- the butt of the joke.
When we can think about things equally, and as a reality- then we’ll be getting closer to the ideal.  Not before.