30/03/2017 13:19 BST | Updated 31/03/2018 06:12 BST

Teenage Boys, Muscles And Masculinity

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Apparently 2016 was the year men became focused on their bodies and my eldest teenager was no exception.

A keen sportsman, he has always been fit and lean, but with slight parents, genetics dictate that he will not be predisposed to a large physique. However, after years of acceptance, he decided to take the matter into his own hands and keen to build his strength, sought advice on a training schedule and overhauled his diet.

So where is the harm in all that? Teenage boys are the masters of doing nothing, so a young man that is actively doing something about his general health and fitness is a good thing and as a parent I would clearly prefer his pursuits were of the healthy variety.

Our bodies are our greatest anxiety and everyone's definition of physical beauty and perfection is completely different. It is a subject, however, which we tend to associate more with females, but there is growing evidence that body image is a big concern among males too.

Research from the YMCA among 16-25 year olds into challenges they face and the factors most affecting their ability to be happier about themselves, showed that body image issues were a third of the list of the top concerns for young people, with a third of boys admitting to trying to change their body shape.


In fact research shows that it is not uncommon for teenage boys to feel a need to "bulk up" and do some muscle building. The UK advertising industry think tank Credos published a report in August last year entitled Picture of Health which focused on boys' body confidence and showed that boys are plagued by the same anxieties as girls.

Whilst looking good comes low on the list of things that make boys happy overall, the report showed that it is their friends that are most likely to make them feel they have to look good and this is particularly true among boys in upper secondary school.

In terms of the quest for the "perfect body" two thirds of those who believe there is such a thing, also think they can achieve it if they work at it. Perhaps not surprisingly the influence of social media is huge, exposing boys not only to relentless peer pressure but also giving them immediate access to tips on how to get in shape and celebrity workout regimes to achieve their goal. Chris Evans' preparation for his role as Captain America was arduous and his workout regime for the role extensively documented, making it one of the most popular downloads at the time.

Interestingly, the Credos research also showed a shift in attitudes in what is seen as a desirable body as boys get older, with older boys tending to find a toned and muscular body more attractive. In fact, among the older boys there was a definite link in the research between muscles and masculinity.

Surrounded by images of "buff" celebrities preparing for action roles that is probably not surprising. The report said "Almost half of secondary boys would consider exercising with the specific intention of building muscle and bulking up (48%) and a fifth have already done this (21%) suggesting a staggering 69% aspire to a muscular physique."

So where does this leave us? Well, it would seem that our teenager is demonstrating the typical behaviour of an older secondary boy in striving for a more muscular physique. According to the report, however, he is in the minority (29%) in that he is open with us about wanting to "improve" himself as he sees it with many keeping their obsession, for want of a better term, to themselves.

From my perspective, I am happy that he is interested in his fitness primarily for the benefit of his sport, that he has sought advice on a regime from a professional and that he is adopting a more healthy attitude to the food he eats. There are, however, boundaries as with everything and I have stressed to him the importance of keeping a balanced perspective in his quest for the body beautiful. A healthy interest is one thing, an obsession is another.