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How to Talk to Boys about Body Image During the Olympic Games

Jul 26, 2016

Boys seem to be suffering more and more from body image issues as they're exposed to more and more idealized images of male bodies. Just like girls, this can happen very early: a GI Joe toy released in 1995 had biceps 27 inches around, larger than any bodybuilder that's ever lived. If you have a younger son who plays with a toy whose body is exaggerated, or watches cartoons with hyper-muscled characters, you can ask the following questions while playing with them:

  • Is this how you or your friends, or the grown-up men you know, look like?
  • Why do you think the people who make action figures make them look like this?
  • Do you have to have big muscles to be a hero?
  • Can you think of people who are heroes who don’t necessarily use their muscles to do good things?

Teen and tween boys often feel pressured if they are ‘undersized’ and feel the need to gain muscle mass to their bodies. As their bodies start to mature, the differences between their body shapes increase, which can put a lot of pressure on teens to avoid being either too heavy or too thin. They also tend to consume media – especially video games – with highly over-muscular and very tough, violent characters. Here are some teachable moments that may help your child with body acceptance:

If your tween is interested in weight training to build muscle or taking body supplements like protein shakes or bars, ask them the following questions:

  • What made you want to do this?
  • Weight training can be good for you, but too much of it can be unhealthy, and protein supplements are not made for tweens or teenagers. Do you know how to plan a healthy exercise regimen?
  • What are the male heroes like in the media you watch, read and play? How are they different from the men you know in the real world?
  • How do the heroes in the media you watch, read and play solve problems? What are some other ways of solving problems or being a hero? You can encourage boys to read about real-life heroes who embody the same values of courage and perseverance but who didn’t use violence to achieve their goals.

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Article Author Matthew Johnson, MediaSmarts
Matthew Johnson, MediaSmarts

Matthew Johnson is the Director of Education for MediaSmarts, Canada's center for digital and media literacy. He is the author of many of MediaSmarts' lessons, parent materials and interactive resources and a lead on MediaSmarts' Young Canadians in a Wired World research project. He has contributed blogs and articles to websites and magazines around the world as well as presenting MediaSmarts' materials on topics such as copyright, cyberbullying, body image and online hate to Parliamentary committees, academic conferences and governments and organizations around the world, frequently as a keynote speaker. He has served as on expert panels convened by the Canadian Pediatric Society, the Ontario Network of Child and Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatric Services and others, consulted on provincial curriculum for the Ontario Ministry of Education, and been interviewed by outlets such as The Globe and Mail, BBC News Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Radio Canada International and CBC's The National.

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