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!

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.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
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.