Young men experience many of the same insecurities as young women when it comes to self-perception and body image, say two new studies recently published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity. The studies, which looked at boys and young men between the ages of 16 and 29, found that many adolescent and young adult males who perceive themselves to be “too skinny” are significantly more likely to become depressed or use steroids as a result.
Shattering the myth that only women deal with issues stemming from their weight or body characteristics, the first study, out of Massachusetts General Hospital, found that boys who perceive themselves to be inadequate from a size perspective also have a higher risk of developing adverse mental health outcomes. These outcomes include not only depression and steroid use but also eating disorders similar to those that afflict some women.
The second study, by Dr. Aaron Blashill, who also authored the first study, arrived at similar conclusions using a much a larger sample size. Among the 4 percent of boys who reported using steroids, as well as the 3 percent who said they were “very underweight,” a strong correlation was observed between perceptions of inadequate body size and both steroid use and depression, which speaks volumes about how human beings in general view themselves.
“Teenage girls tend to internalize and strive for a thin appearance, whereas teenage boys tend to emphasize a more muscular body type,” stated Dr. Blashill in a recent American Psychology Association press release about the findings. “We found that some of these boys who feel they are unable to achieve that often unattainable image are suffering and may be taking drastic measures.”
Negative perceptions of body image in youth can lead to mental health problems later in life
Dr. Blashill’s findings appear to support those of a similar but unrelated study published in JAMA Pediatrics back in November. Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, looking at the mental health of young men, made many of the same determinations about body image and behavior.
After extrapolating the data collected from surveys filled out by more than 5,500 boys between the ages of 12 and 18, the team found that a shocking 31 percent of them had either binged on food to gain weight or purged food from their diets to lose weight at least once during the 12-year study period. Many of these same individuals suffered from other unhealthy behaviors such as drug and alcohol use as a result of their negative perceptions.
“The results of our studies would suggest we need to be thinking more broadly about eating disorders and consider males as well,” stated Alison Field, author of the study, to the New York Daily News. “The results from this study would suggest that males who are extremely concerned about their physiques are doing or using things that may or may not be healthy.”
Just like females, males are often bombarded with the same types of intimidating imagery in the media: images of handsome, muscular men with desirable physiques getting all the ladies. Young men who feel as though they cannot live up to these types of images may be just as prone as females to take drastic measures to live up to the media’s unrealistic standards.
“We think about a lot of disorders and diseases that look different in males than females,” adds Field. “This is another example and we need to remember that.”
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