By MIA FREEDMAN
A few years ago, I bought a copy of Dolly magazine for my son. He was about 13 at the time and the idea had been recommended to be by another mother who had done the same for her son when he was the same age.
The thinking was this: the only place today’s teenage boys learn about sex is from looking at porn on the internet. Not ideal. Not realistic. Not particularly instructive when it comes to understanding how girls work – physically or emotionally.
Having once been Ed-In-Chief of Dolly and having been a massive reader-fan when I was a teenager myself, I’ve always known this: Dolly Doctor is AWESOME. Same with the advice pages in Girlfriend magazine.
All the advice is written by Australia’s leading (adult) experts in adolescent physical and mental health and all the questions are legitimately from readers (at least they were when I was there) which means they’re indicative of the issues teens are facing – whether we like it or not.
As I used to instruct parents of Dolly’s younger readers back when I worked there, I flicked through the mag before I left it lying casually around to see what kinds of things he might be reading and seeing.
Well. Do you know what struck me? The bodies. Not of the girls so much as the boys. While girls appeared in the fashion shoots and features, there were pages and pages of pin-ups of boys. Boys from bands, from TV, from movies. And they all looked exactly the same: shirts off, hugely muscled chests and arms, 6 packs (even 8 packs), hairless.
So I ripped out all the pages and threw them in the bin. I didn’t want my son to get the message that there is only one type of ‘hot’ guy that girls like – one who looked as if they’d been inflated with a pump of some kind and then roasted like a chicken.
For a while now, body image experts have warned of the dramatically rising tide of boys and young men struggling with poor body image and you can’t help but link it back to this new pop culture aesthetic of cut, buff, six-packs on sticks.
Because that most definitely is a new thing. When I was growing up, that look was synonymous with gay men. Straight boys might have had good bodies but that came naturally from sport not going to the gym and chugging protein powder. Boys never used to strut around without their shirts on because that whole chiseled look just wasn’t currency. In fact it would have been considered try-hard.
Times have changed.
News reports over the weekend suggested teenage boys are spending hours every day working on their fitness and physique. Schools are apparently having to put bans on the number of hours boys spend in the gym. Whilst body image and eating disorders are evident problems with young women, it appears that experts believe teenage boys are catching up.
This from News Limited:
The truth is, the six-days-a-week workouts and protein-heavy diets are most likely only giving the illusion of fitness, Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan says.
“It probably is the opposite because we know that the healthiest approach is a balanced diet and healthy, balanced exercise, and when something tips into excessive then you’re getting into really dangerous territory,” she says.
The report suggested the new body obsession could be exacerbated by social media sites like Facebook and Instagram (where people upload photos for users to ‘like’) and that too much emphasis on looks could lead to a psychological disorder known as muscle dysmorphia – or ‘reverse anorexia.’
According to this article from The Conversation, one third of adolescent boys wish to be thinner, while more than a third desired to be larger than their current size.
Similar to women’s magazines, men’s publications are now filled with articles that concentrate on their readers’ worries and inadequacies. As images of men became more prevalent in the media, a new sociocultural standard of beauty for men seems to have emerged: a hyper-masculine, muscled, powerfully shaped body.
The questions experts are now pondering is whether these images will promote a ‘standard’, and whether or not it will replicate the “standard” teen girls think is acceptable – that of the super thin model.
Have you noticed a change in the way men are portrayed in the media? Do you have any teenage boys or young men in your world who are overly interested in their own bodies?