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For men, the physical ideal has also shifted. Just look at the leading men in any Marvel movie, with their elaborately sculped muscles, as compared to the biggest stars of the 1950s. Certainly, celebrities such as James Dean and Marlon Brando were fit and handsome, but they didn’t spend hours in the gym or eat highly specific diets under the watchful eye of trainers and nutritionists as today’s impossibly lean and muscular stars do.
Studies show that both men and women are worried about their appearance. Estimates suggest that around 70% of women aged 18-30 don’t like their body, and around 50% try to control their weight with unhealthy behaviors. Among men, 43% don’t like their body and body dissatisfaction is growing among men.
A positive body image is important for a happy, healthy, well-adjusted life. A negative body image harms physical and mental health and can hold us back from achieving our dreams. Read on for more about how our body image is formed in childhood and adolescence.
Body Image in Childhood and the Teen Years
As infants, our first job is to figure out how our body works. At first, we can’t even lift our heads, but soon we are crawling, walking, and then running around, getting into mischief. Soon after we start learning to move our bodies, we start absorbing messages about which bodies are good, and which are bad. Studies show that children as young as three may start to worry about their weight.
While humans have always valued beauty – a walk through any art gallery will teach you that – today’s concern about body weight is newly intense and is affecting children at younger and younger ages. In 1970, the average age that girls began dieting was 14, but by 1990, that age had dropped to 8. By age 10, more than 80% of girls have been on a diet.
As well as worrying about their own weight, young children also start to judge others based on weight. Elementary school students who are obese are 65% more likely to bullied by their peers, and those who are overweight are 13% more likely to be bullied.
While children are worried about their appearance at earlier ages than ever before, puberty is still the worst time for liking one’s body. The average person’s body image hits an all-time low between the ages of 12 and 15, and self-esteem drops along with it. Studies show that by the teen years, many girls will give up many activities such as going to the beach, playing sports, or even speaking in public, because of concerns about their appearance.
Along with the decrease in body image during adolescence comes an increased risk of eating disorders. Most eating disorders begin during the teen years. Even among teens who do not have a full-fledged eating disorder, unhealthy eating patterns are common. Half of teen girls and a third of teen boys fast, binge, or use smoking, laxatives or excessive exercise to control their weight.
Evidence shows that media, including movies, television, magazines, and social media, is a big contributor to teen’s body dissatisfaction. Studies show that the more time young women spent on social media, the more likely they are to have a poor body image.
When teens read articles about dieting and weight loss, girls are six times more likely to engage in unhealthy eating, while boys are four times more likely. Over 90% of teenage girls feel that the media pressures them to be thin. While 65% think that fashion models are too thin, 46% strive to look like the images they see in fashion magazines.
Gender and Body Image
Body image issues affect people of all genders. While many people assume that women are more affected by messages about their weight and appearance than boys, this is changing. In the early 1990s, 15% of teenage boys were unhappy about their bodies. This has increased to around 45% today. A recent study of college-age men found that over 90% of them had at least one part of their body that they didn’t like.
In today’s society, boys are caught between wanting to be thinner and wanting to be more muscular. For that reason, body image issues can show up differently in men than women. Many boys turn to the gym to gain muscle and fall into patterns of disordered eating and excess exercise. To make matters worse, men are less likely to seek help for body image issues, even when their health is seriously impacted. Boys and men make up one third of those with eating disorders, and men and women suffer from body dysmorphia in equal numbers, but males are much less likely to seek help.
For any one of any gender, a negative body image can lead to a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, and an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. If you aren’t happy with your body, it’s important to know that help is available. If body image issues are seriously affecting your life, talk to your doctor or call the National Eating Disorders hotline at (800) 931-2237.
For more ways to improve your body image, read on.
Steps to Overcoming a Negative Body Image
If you struggle with a negative body image, improving it will also help improve your physical and mental health and wellbeing, increase your self-esteem and self-confidence, and make it easier to developing meaningful connections to the people around you. If you are ready to start improving your body image, there are some tools below that may be helpful.Other Details
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