I had the pleasure of speaking to an entire sophomore class at a local high school the other day. As I stood at the podium watching each and every student walk through the entryway, I could feel the tension in the room increasing as they took their seats. They were informed of the topic that was going to be addressed—eating disorders and body image–issues that are far too misunderstood and unspoken, yet, so imperative. And, based on their attentiveness, questions, and discussion following my presentation, it was clear these students were more than familiar with these happenings.
Our family, friends, and community learned of this speaking engagement through social media or by hearsay. When conversation came up, it seemed as though the same question was perpetually being asked: “Was it to just girls, or boys, too?”
According to Eating Disorder Hope, over 50% of teenage girls and 33% of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight. So why does this misconception that only girls need help continue to exist? Boys need it just as much—if not more!!!!
I brought up to the group that before they know it, they will be seniors. And, as seniors, the tradition in this area is to go on a “Senior Week” trip to the beach. When inviting them to discuss the social pressures involved in just that one instance, the majority of them shouted, in unison, “Beach body.” I encouraged them to elaborate. Hands went straight up—and they shared with me the ideal body types they are expected to model. The answers reflected a major difference between boys and girls when it comes to weight concerns: whereas girls typically want to be thinner, boys are as likely to feel pressure to gain weight and muscle tone.
The concern becomes when either boys or girls attempt to control their weight by engaging in potentially dangerous behaviors, which are signs of an eating disorder. Boys aren’t necessarily trying to starve themselves, use laxatives or induce vomiting (though, it can occur). Instead, they are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as, excessive exercise and steroid abuse to become larger. Though boys and girls may have different aspirations when it comes to body types, extreme worries about weight are no less concerning in males than in females.
Immediately following my final statement to this amazing group of students, I opened the floor up for questions and answers. Continuing to prove my point, out of fourteen questions, eleven of them were asked by boys. Was it because they were just intrigued? Or they were able to personally relate to my story? Or did they have family members they were reflecting on?
Whatever the reasons may have been—these boys needed some answers. I responded based on my personal experiences and knowledge, but, unfortunately, the forty-five minutes I spent with them didn’t even scrape the surface of the education and guidance these kids were yearning for related to weight, body image, and diet.
It is time to recognize that boys are just as affected by body image pressures as girls. So, when asked by a school, organization, or program if I should be speaking to only girls — my answer is no. Every individual – boy or girl – can benefit from being educated on eating disorders, body image, and exercise. And every individual can benefit from hearing the importance of being healthy, and valuing character over appearance. Every body is different – and that’s what makes this world a beautiful place.
Thank you to those students for inspiring me to keep on spreading the message! They were the greatest, and most engaged group I have spoken to thus far in my journey.