Education Feature
Outrageous Expectations
By Karen Savage
CWK Producer
 

"Life exists beyond your body or beyond how you look. That is not the most important thing in your life."
-Blake Fechtel, 17-

Super-thin models and actresses are everywhere - in magazines, on television, in movies. They set up an ideal body image that young girls worry about living up to. Boys are lucky they do not have to deal with that -- or do they?

17-year-old Blake Fechtel has a hard time looking at the images of 'perfection' in magazines.

"They have perfectly angular chins with these chin bones that just come out and make you feel ugly," he says.

For years, rail-thin supermodels have set outrageous expectations for girls. But these days, boys are faced a similar message.

"These hard body, six pack stomach, Adonis type bodies that are airbrushed, unrealistic, hard to achieve," says psychologist Dr. Dina Zeckhausen.

In fact, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, found boys are just as insecure about their bodies as girls.

Dr. Zeckhausen explains why: "The boys are comparing themselves to these images and of course coming up short."

And that is why some boys take dangerous drugs like steroids or creatine to get bigger. That is one problem. The other is the endless hours they spend lifting weights.

Dr. Zeckhausen says it is not a problem if boys want to get in shape and be healthy.

"Where it may be getting in the way of studying or socializing, if it seems to be taking up too much of their time and energy, then it's probably a problem," Zeckhausen says.

Blake now understands that the issue is balance.

"I had to make the choice between going to work out and going to back-work and getting my homework done, or getting a project turned in on time, or getting sleep or making practice on time," he says.

Experts say parents can help kids make the right choice by setting a healthy example, explaining the world of modeling is make-believe. And then remind them that how you look does not define who you are.

"It's important to help a child feel good about who they are on the inside and remind them that these images are unrealistic. They're unattainable. They're not what's going to make them happy," says Dr. Zeckhausen.

Blake agrees: "Life exists beyond your body or beyond how you look. That is not the most important thing in your life."

 
Self-Esteem Best Antidote for Negative Body Image

By Mandy Rider
CWK Network, Inc.

Today's media presents many of America's teens with the distorted body images of models, actresses and entertainers. These high expectations have pushed many teen girls to diet dangerously, aiming to achieve the "perfect" figure. Girls are made to feel insecure about their bodies if they aren't a certain size, weight or shape - but what about boys?

New research from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, found that boys are just as insecure about their bodies as girls. As advertisers begin to focus on male models, many boys are feeling the pressure to measure up. This insecurity often leads them to dangerous diets and workout schedules, which often include unsafe diet supplements, extreme workout programs and possibly even steroids.

What is body image? The National Eating Disorders Association defines body image as how a person sees himself when he looks in a mirror or how he pictures himself in his mind. Body image includes how a person feels not only about his weight but also his height and shape. It also includes how a person feels in his body. So, no matter how perfect one's body may be, a negative body image may exist.

It is important to understand that body images can be positive or negative. The National Eating Disorder Association states a negative body image exists in the following situations:

  • A distorted perception of one's shape-a person perceives parts of his body unlike they really are.
  • One is convinced that only other people are attractive and that his body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • A person feels ashamed, self-conscious and anxious about his body.
  • One feels uncomfortable and awkward in one's own body.

A positive body image is defined as the following:

  • A clear, true perception of one's shape - a person sees the various parts of his body as they really are.
  • A person celebrates and appreciates his natural body shape and he understands that someone's physical appearance says very little about his character and value as a person.
  • A person feels proud, accepts his unique body and refuses to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight and calories.
  • A person feels comfortable and confident in his body.
 
What Parents Need to Know

So how do you know if your teen has a negative body image? How do you know if he is in danger? The first step is to realize that not all boys interested in gaining muscles are in trouble. Chicago Parent suggests looking for the following trouble signs:

  • Excessive exercise or training that isn't required for his athletic activities at school and intrudes on other important activities
  • Engaging in sports for the sole purpose of improving appearance
  • A preoccupation with looking like the extremely muscular men in the media
  • The use of large quantities of dietary supplements (such as creatine or protein powders), or the use of steroids (such as ephedrine or androstenedione)
  • Sharp fluctuations in weight
  • The use of fasting, extreme diets, laxatives, diuretics or other dangerous techniques to lose weight
  • A feeling of never looking good enough
  • A frequent need for reassurance that he "looks OK"
  • Not just thought, but worry and distress about appearance
  • Allowing appearance concerns to limit social activities, or negatively affect school or job performance
  • Avoidance of having all or part of his body seen by others; avoiding locker room situations or wearing clothes that alter or disguise his body

If you recognize any of these signs, it is important that you talk with your teen about these issues as soon as possible. The University of South Florida suggest discussing the following:

  • Tell them how important it is that they identify and accept their strengths and weaknesses-remind them that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that no one is perfect.
  • Remind them that goals must be realistic and they must take pride in their achievements.
  • Tell them not to be someone else but to be proud of who they are.
  • Have them explore their own talents and learn to love and appreciate the their uniqueness.

As a parent, it is important to remember that you play an extremely important role in how your teen feels about his body. You are often a role model and teens learn from the things you say and do. To be a positive role model and to help prevent your teen from developing a negative body image, the National Eating Disorder Association suggests the following:

  • Consider your thoughts, attitudes and behaviors toward your own body and the way that these beliefs have been shaped by the forces of weightism and sexism.
  • Educate your children about the genetic basis for the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes, and the nature and ugliness of prejudice.
  • Make an effort to maintain positive, healthy attitudes and behaviors.
  • Avoid conveying messages that will lead your teen to believe that he needs to look more like models and fit into smaller clothes.
  • Learn about and discuss with your teen the dangers of trying to alter one's body shape through dieting, the value of moderate exercise for health, and the importance of eating a variety of foods in well-balanced meals consumed at least three times a day.
  • Make a commitment not to avoid activities (such as swimming, sunbathing, dancing, etc.) simply because they call attention to your weight and shape.
  • Make a commitment to exercise for the joy of feeling your body move and grow stronger, not to purge fat from your body or to compensate for calories eaten.
  • Help children appreciate and resist the ways in which television, magazines and other media distort the true diversity of human body types and imply that a slender body means power, excitement, popularity or perfection.
  • Encourage your children to be active and to enjoy what their bodies can do and feel like. Do not limit their caloric intake unless a physician requests that you do so because of a medical problem.
  • Do whatever you can to promote the self-esteem and self-respect of all of your children in intellectual, athletic and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to dangerous dieting and a negative body image.
 
Resources

Chicago Parent
National Eating Disorders Association
University of South Florida