It’s not just girls who suffer from body hang-ups, boys and young men are very much affected by pressures to look good too.
That’s according to a new survey of eight to 18-year-olds which found that almost one quarter (23%) believed there was a “perfect male body” type.
Of the 1,000 males surveyed, more than half (55%) said they would consider changing their diet to look better.
The four main sources of pressure to look good were: friends (68%), social media (57%), advertising (53%) and celebrities (49%).
The report has been published alongside a government-supported toolkit called ‘Media Smart’, which encourages parents and teachers to talk to kids and teens about adverts and how they can affect self-perception.
The report, from advertising think-tank Credos, found that over half of secondary school boys admitted they felt pressured to look good from advertising (53%), with many changing their behaviour as a result of it – 69% of 16 to 18 year olds said they had tried new products after seeing an advert and around a fifth (23%) said they had changed their exercise routine.
Danny Bowman suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), an anxiety disorder that causes an individual to have a distorted view of their appearance and spend a lot of time worrying about how they look.
He said he believes advertising and social media “play a pivotal role in the development of eating disorders and body image issues”.
“Social media in my opinion has a lot to answer for, since the rise of outlets such as Instagram and Facebook there is an incredible amount of pressure on young men,” he told The Huffington Post UK.
The new body image report also suggested that boys were more likely to laugh off any issues they had rather than dealing with them, as they were worried that they would be made fun of or even bullied.
“It’s hard with boys. With girls, somebody says, ‘You’re fat’. The natural reaction is that the girl cries, the other girl feels guilty, and it gets sorted out,” one teacher said in the report.
“With boys, there’s a lot more banter. You can see they’re often hurt, but the expectation is to laugh and shrug it off.
“It’s bullying, but at a different level.”
Stephen Hull, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post UK, said he wasn’t particularly surprised by the report’s findings, particularly as body pressures come at young people from many places on a daily basis – whether that’s advertising, social media or their friends.
“Actually, I’m surprised it’s not higher,” he said. “The pressure to look amazing comes at young people from all angles. But having a six pack and huge muscle tone just isn’t the norm for most people.”
According to the survey, boys are incredibly reluctant to open up about body pressures. More than half (56%) said they would struggle to speak to a teacher about it and almost one third (29%) said they would struggle to speak to a parent.
“With boys less willing to come forward to share their concerns, they can lack a support structure to acknowledge and resolve their issues,” said the report.
Stephen Hull added that boys and men now need to become more comfortable with opening up about the issues they face – and this should be encouraged by celebrating those who do speak out.
He said that currently, the concept of “being a man” isn’t about being “a person who can articulate a worry or anxiety well”.
He concluded: “We don’t celebrate the sharing of these concerns, so until we all try to reduce the stigma around this issue then it won’t change.”
Danny Bowman added: “I believe there needs to be a completely different approach to body image. In my opinion we need to go with the approach of everyone is beautiful regardless of age, size or gender – and its time that we celebrated that.”