Body-Image: Young Men Are Struggling Too

One of the conversations that we are passionate about having with young people is around the topic of body image.

When we first started our seminars, whenever body image was mentioned, there was a presumption that we were only speaking about girls. This has shifted. I’m seeing and hearing in my discussions with young men more and more that they are also struggling with how they view themselves and their bodies. Interestingly, the conversations I am having and the stories I am hearing from young men, completely align with the research. One study published found that 18% of teenage boys say they are “highly concerned” about their physique. Another study by the University of Sydney concluded that 45% of Western men are unhappy with their bodies – a figure that has tripled in the past 25 years.

Every young person deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin and to have a strong sense of self and self-worth. This is why it’s so upsetting to hear the anecdotal and statistical reality that young men are struggling in this space.

There are many explanations around why we are seeing such an increase. There have been a number of shifts within society and culture that are causing young men to feel like they are not enough within themselves. In my work with young men over the past ten years, there are three key things that I think are worth noting.

1) The Impact Of Pornography 

When I’m speaking with a group of young men and I ask the question of where male body-image issues come from, one of the answers I always hear back is pornography.

A lot of attention is given to the problematic portrayal of sex within pornography. It is, of course, important to note that there are also problematic messages within pornography around bodies. Porn sets unrealistic and unattainable standards for both young men and young women of what attractive and desirable bodies look like. Many young people can become hyper-focused on how their bodies and body parts look and measure up as a result.

I find it interesting how young men are now talking about their bodies and body parts in the same way that we have traditionally and historically heard young women discuss their own bodies. As the years have gone on, it’s becoming clearer to me that boys are struggling too. Evidently, pornography is leading young men to feelings of inadequacy, and teaching them that their value is in how they look, not in who they are.

2) The Impact Of Social Media 

Another source of struggle I often hear from young men is the way social media platforms are constantly bombarding them with cultural ideals of the ‘perfect’ way to look. Today, more than any other time in human history, young people are exposed to more images, more photos and more videos that allow for negative comparisons to be made with others based on appearance and lifestyle. When we speak to young people, we find that the first thing that they engage with in the morning, often before they get out of bed, is social media. We also find that it is often the last thing. This diet of comparison and self-loathing can be framing a young person’s very existence.

A BBC report revealed that photo-based activities, like scrolling through Instagram, were a particular problem. Macquarie University’s Jasmine Fardoul explains how “people are comparing their appearance to people in Instagram images, or whatever platform they’re on, and they often judge themselves to be worse off.”

3) The Impact Of Ignoring The Issue 

Culturally, most of us have become well aware and well attuned to the struggles that young women face with negative self-perceptions. Unfortunately, the conversation and the research hasn’t kept pace with how much young men have also been feeling the weight of insecurities about their bodies. The issue has, in many ways, been ignored for young men. This has only compounded the impacts that pornography and social media are having.

It is important for both young men and women to be aware of how societal and cultural influences like pornography and social media can encourage negative comparisons and create feelings of inadequacy.

Parents and teachers can play a pivotal role here by supporting and encouraging young people to navigate the world with a strong sense of self, and by reminding them that their worth and value lies not in how they look, but in who they are.

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