By Greg Bach
More than half of adolescent boys are dissatisfied with their bodies, according to recent research, leading to depleted confidence, insecurity, and mental health struggles for many.
“We all just need to be reassured sometimes in this appearance-focused culture that we live in that our appearance isn’t everything,” says Dr. Charlotte Markey, co-author of the new book BEING YOU: THE BODY IMAGE BOOK FOR BOYS.
Markey, a Rutgers University psychology professor, is one of the world’s leading experts in body image research. While body image issues have been typically linked to females, boys are feeling the same types of pressures these days to look a certain way, be strong, have muscles, and hide their feelings.
“I was surprised to see just how concerned even young boys are about gaining muscle,” Markey says. “Something I really wanted to focus on in the book is making sure boys understood that they don’t have to worry about that so much; that they shouldn’t do foolish things to try to achieve those goals; and that people who love them and value them are going to love them and value them whether or not they have a six-pack, because that’s not a requirement for success in life.”
BEING YOU is written for and speaks to males ages 12 and older, but it’s also a valuable resource for parents, and for coaches who are in position to mentor and guide young athletes.
Markey shares tips and advice on managing mental health, diet, exercise, self-care, sleep, eating disorders, and many other important topics that affect young lives. Real-life stories from boys are shared throughout the book, and techniques are outlined to use to help youth feel good about themselves, just as they are.
“You see how affected people are by these issues and how difficult body dissatisfaction can be to shake once it’s deeply rooted,” Markey says. “So I wanted to be a little more proactive and try to get information to young people before they suffer potentially for decades with these concerns.”
Check out what Markey shared on these key issues:
Mental Health Management: “We want to normalize that mental health is something we want to take care of, and it requires some work for many of us across our lifetime,” Markey says. “It’s not just always going to be good so it’s ok to say ‘How are you feeling? Would you like to talk to someone about that?’ And kids are always going to say no the first time, and probably the second and the third time you ask, too. But if there’s really something going on at some point they’re going to say ‘ok.’”
Candid Conversations: “We really want to take care in how we talk to boys and we really want to be careful that we’re not telling them things like ‘don’t be a wimp,’ ‘walk it off,’ or not allowing them to have feelings or to be vulnerable,” Markey says. “Because then it’s not just about confining them emotionally, but it can really impact mental health broadly and it can really make boys feel like they can’t express themselves. Also, have positive but candid conversations with boys, focusing more on what their bodies do than on how they look.”
Healthy Habits: “We don’t want to get too extreme in how we’re eating or suggesting how our kids eat,” Markey says. “It’s fine for them to indulge in sweets sometimes – we don’t want to have this really strict no-sugar household because that really tends to backfire long-term. Of course, we want to offer fruits and vegetables and encourage their consumption; and we want a balanced view when it comes to food so kids don’t develop hang-ups or disordered eating.”
Check In – Often: “I think sometimes we want to feel that we are doing our due diligence, so we ask once if they are doing ok and they say ‘yes’ and then we feel like we did what we had to do,” Markey says. “But sometimes as a parent, a coach, or a teacher you have to ask more than once if you really are concerned about a kid because they’re often going to be afraid to admit how they’re really feeling. There’s still a lot of stigma in our culture about mental illness and treatment for mental illness – and especially for boys and men. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that we feel depressed.”
You can follow Dr. Charlotte Markey on Twitter @Char_Markey and Instagram @char_markey.
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