In April 2018, around 50 young people met in London to have a serious talk about male body image, presenting themselves as the experts and setting the agenda based on their own experiences of growing up in the shadow of modern expectations; whether these come from parents, friends, teachers or celebrities. Matthew Mills, news and features writer at social action charity Fixers, which hosted the event, summarised some of the event’s most prominent issues to highlight the need to tackle body image struggles for boys as well as for girls.
Childhood should be a time where you are able grow comfortably into your own skin, discovering the things that make you uniquely you and providing the opportunity to display and celebrate these traits at every opportunity.
However, the current generation of young people are increasingly discovering who they are is being measured against unhealthy expectations of who they should be, fuelled predominantly by opinions and idols found so easily on social platforms.
The way in which some children instinctively compare themselves to celebrities and yearn to emulate unrealistic body types has the potential to wreak havoc on their self-esteem, and while debates around body positivity often focus on women, it is important to remember young men are affected by the same pressures.
Young men highlighted the need for more training to be provided for teachers in regards to how they challenge comments and behaviour that may fuel a student’s insecurities. They recommended this be provided by the students themselves, who can draw on their lived experience to deliver impactful lessons.
They also emphasised that children need to be taught about difference from a young age, to help create a climate of understanding.
Lucas’ personal experience is a testament to the need for such understanding.
‘The impact on my education, the impact on my life because of my hair, because of my clothes, because of my skin colour, because of my nose – anything about me – I was told constantly that it was bad or wasn’t nice’.
The young men taking part talked about struggling to live up to their parents’ expectations, and called for a more open and honest dialogue between boys and their parents that would allow them to discover themselves with the support of their family.
‘My mum wanted me to look a certain way, so I became a product of her expectations’ says Lucas. ‘It makes you doubt yourself a lot and living up to those expectations is really difficult’.
Ultimately, they want young men to be encouraged to be who they are, and not who they are told to be, at home as well as at school.
The group discussed how social media has such a large influence both on how young men adopt unrealistic expectations, and how they are exposed to bullying. They suggested children should be taught to use social media safely from a young age to minimise its harmful effects.
‘There is so no safe space on social media’ says Jason. ‘If the bullies can’t get you at school, they’ll get you outside of school, via social media. Behind a screen it’s harder to stand up to them’.
They also described how social media can breed competition amongst parents, and called for their families to represent their lives more truthfully instead of using it to show off their kids, as this helps foster difficult expectations.
On top of all this, the media also presents a very particular male body image as being the correct one, and the young men wanted the media to take responsibility by portraying a variety of body types in its output, to help celebrate difference.
The boys displayed a lack of faith in medical professionals to make an accurate diagnosis. They feel doctors often make sweeping assumptions and rush to prescriptions as oppose to listening to the needs of the young men themselves.
As well as advocating more focused training for health professionals on the issue, they also wanted there to be more signposting to support, instead of instant medication as the only answer.
Those in attendance felt employers and managers still embrace gender stereotypes in the workplace, especially regarding specific vocations, and want their voices to be heard in deciding where they think their skills would be better utilised.
Jason sums it up by saying ‘I don’t think men should be put off because a field is female dominated. Be who you want to be, and do what you want to do’.
These recommendations were drafted in the hope of making male body image a topic to be addressed more effectively for future generations, and to emphasise how it is an issue affecting young men just as much as it affects young women.
For more information read Fixers latest report ‘Boys fixing body image issues’