How to Talk Body Image With Boys

by Natasha McKee
Happy mom bonding with young son
Delmaine Donson / Getty

This year’s Superbowl halftime show was a real treat. Forget the game — we came for the commercials and the best music that we’ve heard since, well, it first came out. There is no argument that these iconic throwbacks have aged incredibly well.

But unfortunately, the time-honored tradition of critiquing the bodies of the performers (aka fat shaming) is also still going strong. In 2017, it was Lady Gaga and her (non-existent) stomach rolls. This year, it was 50 Cent and the fact that somehow he didn’t have the same physique that he did almost two decades ago. “50 cent looked like he was hit by inflation,” went one representative joke by Dick Butkus, formerly of the Chicago Bears. You get the point — there were many, many others.

I don’t know about you, but even looking back at pictures from five years ago, my body is radically different. More importantly, it’s still fat shaming when these kinds of jokes are about men. And it’s a reminder that body image is complicated for them, too, and parents need to approach the topic with sensitivity and care.

Boys (and Men) Experience Fat Shaming Too

While many guys have fully embraced the “Dad Bod” concept, it doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with fat shaming and their body image too.

“When you talk to men about their body image, eating disorders, and fat shaming, there is a constant refrain of ‘This is stuff that women and girls struggle with, not men, right? Why am I feeling this way?‘ Jillian Lampert of The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder awareness and recovery, told Scary Mommy in an email. “The truth is, it’s not just female-identifying people who struggle. It’s something any person can feel. The struggle doesn’t limit itself to impacting any particular sex or gender.”

No matter who you are, regardless of your celebrity status, every person has feelings, and every body is different.

Lampert also stressed the importance of breaking the cycle of this learned behavior. “When we comment on others’ bodies with judgment, ridicule, or comparison, we are really expressing our own concern about appearance and acceptance – which we hold (in large part) because of social messaging,” she explained.

How We Can Talk To Boys About Body Image?

Moms need to talk about body image with boys, too. It might be a new or uncomfortable conversation, but it’s important to proactively set them up to have a healthy relationship with their body.

And while boys might focus more on muscle building than thinness, it’s still important to pay attention to how they talk about their bodies.

Lampert encourages us to think critically when it comes to these conversations: “What do they talk about when the topic of their body comes up? Do they express acceptance, contentment, joy, or neutrality, or are their comments limited to weight, appearance, judgment, and self-deprecation?”

If you see the guys in your life devoting large amounts of time and mental space to thinking about activity, eating or not eating, and their bodies, it’s time to take note.

Even something as simple as just asking how they feel can make all the difference. Lampert suggests asking about how they feel in their body, what they think about body judgment, and what they think when they hear others judge appearance.

At the end of the day, remember that just because boys and men often don’t talk about body image as openly as girls and women do, doesn’t mean they don’t struggle just the same. And also, for the love of everything that is holy, enough with the fat shaming. I don’t care if you’re commenting on a man’s body, a woman’s body, a celebrity, or average joe. Other people’s bodies are absolutely none of your business.

Now, please excuse me while I go jam out to halftime show again, for the umpthzillionth time. Yes, I’ll be rocking my imperfectly aged body in all its glory.