Body image issues aren't just for girls. There are plenty of unrealistic expectations for boys too! Here's how to talk to your son about it.
There's an increased focus on how negative talk about food and weight affects girls. But are we leaving boys out of that conversation? In a recent blog post titled "A Message To Mothers of Boys", dietitian Amy Reed talks about the importance of raising sons who have a healthy body image and are respectful of other people's body sizes and food choices too.
"I'm in full support of campaigns that feature women of many sizes in their ads and encourage women to be comfortable in their own skin," she says. "But I don't see that same effort made on the other side, encouraging boys to be comfortable with who they are. The movement to embrace men of every size has not caught up yet."
While girls are too often sent messages from society that they need to be thin (and sexy), boys are bombarded by unrealistic images and expectations too. "Boys can be teased for being too skinny or being too big. Their 'ideal' is based on wanting muscle and bulking up, but not too much," says Reed, the mom of two boys. "It seems like that ideal leaves a pretty small window." Boys also get messages from movies and other media that it's okay to comment on girls' and women's bodies or what they're eating.
She offers this advice for teaching boys body-positive messages for themselves and others:
- When your kids are describing a friend, make sure you ask questions that aren't related to their looks: "Is he funny?", "Is she good at math?", "What books does she like to read?" In return, when you're describing someone to your son, talk about characteristics of their personality instead of their body.
- Talk about the fact that very few people can (or should) keep up the exercise schedule of their favorite sports star or actor—and that's okay. You don't have to have a six-pack to be fit, and health and fitness doesn't mean hours at the gym every day and taking protein supplements. Model realistic ways of staying active.
- Let your son see you eat. Take seconds or have dessert if you're still hungry. This is teaching them that it's healthy to eat when you're hungry (and hopefully they'll never say to a girl, "Are you really going to eat all that?"). Teach your boys never to comment negatively on what or how much people are eating.
- Pay attention to what your boys are watching on TV. Even shows geared toward school age kids feature male characters that talk about how the female characters' looks. Have a discussion with your son about why this isn't appropriate.
- Avoid negative self-talk about your own body in front of your sons. If you talk negatively about your body, it could cause your son to wonder whether his own body is a "problem".
Read Amy's blog post for more tips and information about body image and kids.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.