Congratulations, Boys. You Now Have Body Issues Too!

What Women Really Think
Nov. 19 2012 1:56 PM

Congrats, Boys. You Now Have Body Issues Too!

56055693
Teen bodybuilder Ritchie Sandrak in 2005.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Yet another way in which boys are apparently becoming just like girls: They are obsessed with their bodies, according to this front page New York Times story today. They are obsessed to an unhealthy degree. They count calories, drink weird powdery shakes instead of eating normal meals, take pills that alarm their pediatricians. We have thinness. They have “muscle enhancement.”  We have the well-dressed skeletons in the H&M ads. They have The Situation, who, since rehab, lifts up his shirt a little less this season but still enough to make masses of American teenage boys jealous.

According to this new study in Pediatrics discussed in the Times story, boys surveyed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area reported a record number of “muscle-enhancing behaviors,” which included everything from going to the gym to taking steroids. Two-thirds of the mostly middle school age boys were taking actions to increase their muscle size; 34.7 percent were drinking protein shakes and 5.9 percent were taking steroids. The diagnosis made by the researchers is just Beauty Myth in reverse: A “stark” increase in scantily dressed men in advertising (thank you, Marky Mark) and a bulking up of action figures has caused an epidemic of “body dissatisfaction and “muscle dysmorphia in young men,” the researchers write.

I’m sure that things have changed for teenage boys, around the edges. We have social media now, so boys can post Tumblr pics of their favorite ripped athletes under the heading “fitspo,” the Times story reports, which is a rip-off of the “thinspo” tag banned from many sites because it promotes anorexia. They can also post progress pics of their own workouts and their friends can judge. And maybe steroids are easier to get now—I have no idea. That said, I distinctly remember my brother being obsessed with Joe Weider protein shakes when we were teenagers in the ’80’s. And wasn’t Charles Atlas (“Hey Skinny! Yer ribs are showing!”) the original Situation back in the ’20s?
 
What’s mostly changed is how we frame the life cycle of boys. No one felt all that bad for Skinny in the 1920s because it was assumed that Atlas was mostly right: Skinny needed to learn how to be a man. Now, we seem to have woken up and discovered that young boys have a rich emotional life, that they struggle just like the girls do, that despite what Caitlin Flanagan writes, it’s not just girls spilling their agonies every night to their pony embossed diaries but also boys who think middle school sucks, too.
 
The worst outcome of this shift in perspective is we start bombarding boys with the same annoying mixed messages we’ve been throwing at girls all these years. (Get off the couch and stop playing video games! Wait, but don’t go to the gym!) The best outcome is we start breaking down some of the hoary old evolutionary biology stereotypes about how boys and girls behave around sex, and start believing that men too want partners who see them for who they are, and not just for their pretty abs.
 

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.