Lifting the Burden of Weight Stigma from Teenage Boys’ Shoulders
Dr. Kaley Roosen, clinical and health psychologist in Toronto, says that, often, people assume weight issues don’t have an impact on boys (or men) and that boys won’t be affected by teasing about their weight or being bad at sports.
“Whereas [boys] can really internalize that, and carry it with them their whole life,” says Roosen. “It will inform [throughout] lifetime, whether they have a healthy relationship with their body.”
And that can create an unhealthy focus on pursuing diet and exercise to so they can “fit in,” or be accepted by peers or family members.
Often, Roosen’s male clients have concerns about their weight that aren’t perceptible to those around them. Perhaps they’re training hard for a marathon, “eating clean” to the point of avoiding take-out meals or sharing food with friends, or are taking supplements to bulk up. This might be dismissed in a man, Roosen explains.
“But [these] just as obsessive and dangerous in a man as they would be in a woman with an eating disorder,” comments Roosen.
Boys may also be particularly susceptible to advertisers selling unnecessary supplements, shakes, or exercise programs.
Sometimes, that may also mean they start using potentially harmful products to increase their muscularity. A US study published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal concluded that boys who used products and had high concerns about muscularity were more likely than their peers to start using drugs and binge drink frequently.
Monitor online sources and mentors
Roosen recommends monitoring the information our boys are taking in to see whether they’re particularly obsessed with working out or taking supplements, and also checking out who they’re following on social media.
“[Check] if it’s a healthy role model or [rather] somebody who might lead them down a path [toward] hating their body or always trying to ‘make it better’ during their whole life,” advises Roosen.
Monitor your own attitudes
You also want to be conscious of your own weight-biased attitudes. Thirty-four percent of overweight boys report being victimized by family members. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when peers, family, and friends bully or victimize children and young people because of how much they weigh, it can lead to feelings of shame and depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, and suicide. And those feelings of shame often keep young people from exercising or eating in public in an attempt to avoid public humiliation.
Monitor your schools’ attitudes
Another tactic to protect your young man could include advocating for children in school with teachers and principals. Weight-based bias among teachers may result in them forming lower expectations of students. This can result in lower educational outcomes for young boys with obesity. To combat this issue, the WHO recommends creating policies at schools to help prevent weight victimization in schools.
To learn more, read “Guys Think About It Too” by Carimé Lane in the June 2021 issue of alive magazine.