A UK survey of young boys has revealed that body image is a problem for many of them and that they really believe there is such a thing as the ‘perfect body’.
What’s even more shocking for those of us with sons is that many boys think they can achieve this perfect body if they work hard enough.
Another startling finding is that being bullied is the biggest worry for most of the children interviewed.
The research was produced by Credos, UK advertising’s think-tank, to explore the boys’ attitudes towards body image and the role advertising and digital image manipulation play in this.
Earlier this year researchers spoke to 326 primary and 679 secondary boys, they were aged from eight to 18 years of age.
What boys think about body image
42% of boys who think male images are realistic also believe there is a ‘perfect’ body that they can achieve if they work at it.
41% of boys feel the way the media portray men in images is unrealistic.
67% of boys think it is unacceptable to manipulate body shapes in ads.
69% of 16 to 18-year-old boys have bought a new product after seeing an ad for it.
The research also revealed that 53% of secondary school boys say advertising puts pressure on them to look good.
They also said that pressure to look good also came from friends (68%) social media (57%) and celebrities (49%).
What boys love the most
Happiness is a computer screen
Boys of all ages enjoy playing computer games and sports, as well as spending time with their friends.
Looking good doesn’t seem to be connected to happiness, with only 9% of boys saying looking good makes them happy.
What boys worry about
School pressures top the list of worries
School is the biggest cause of stress in boys’ lives, with boys feeling under pressure to achieve at school and in exams. Even primary age boys are worried about exams.
Unsurprisingly, worries vary greatly by age, with younger boys more worried about being bullied or having arguments with others, and older boys more worried about their future.
Only 11% of boys say they are worried about looking good.
The findings also revealed that…
- Looking good comes low on the list of things that make boys happy and equally low on the list of things that worry them.
- Playing computer games and spending time with friends are far more important for both secondary and primary boys.
- It is their friends that are most likely to make boys feel they have to look good, particularly older boys.
- Older boys place a higher priority on their friends’ opinions, and 68% cite them as a source of pressure to look good.
- Boys are also far more likely to talk to their friends about their looks than to their teachers or parents but are quite likely to laugh off any issues they have, as they are worried they will be made fun of or even bullied.
- Although many boys acknowledge that body image is a problem for them as well as for girls, parents and teachers are slower to recognise it.
- Parents and teachers can find it difficult to distinguish any worries from a normal desire to be healthy.
- The influence of social media is starting early, with even sites that have a minimum age of 13 being commonly visited by primary school boys.
The full results of this study have been made into a document called Picture of Health? in an attempt to inform and encourage the debate surrounding different aspects of representation in UK advertising.
See here to read about body image as a mother.