Social Media Is Toxic For Our Boys' Body Image Too

by Tanay Howard
Boy surfing on his phone watching social media in the dark
Perfect Wave/Shutterstock

Scrolling social media these days is the biggest time suck in the world. I know I can’t be the only one who signs onto my favorite platform to look at “just one thing” and ends up scrolling for an hour (ahem, or more) browsing something completely different. And as a woman and a mom, I find it all too easy to get lost in social media and then start playing the comparison game. I wish I had that car. My house isn’t THAT big. I could do something to different to my hair. I had three kids and I don’t look like THAT.

Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a correlation between social media and the way we view ourselves. The more we take in, the more we give ourselves the opportunity to compare ourselves to what we see. Images and content that we may be taking in with the intention of being “inspired” often does the very opposite.

Reviews on Social Media and Body Image

Amy Slater, an associate professor at the University of West England, Bristol, published a study in 2017 in which 160 female undergraduates viewed either #fitspo, self compassion quotes, or a mix of both, all sourced from real accounts on Instagram. Those who viewed only #fitspo scored lower on self-compassion, but those who viewed the compassionate quotes (e.g. “You’re perfect just the way you are”) were nicer to themselves – and felt better about their bodies.

In a survey of 227 female university students, women reported that they tend to compare their own appearance negatively with their peer group and with celebrities, but not with family members, while browsing Facebook. The comparison group that had the strongest link to body image concerns was distant peers, or acquaintances.

But Social Media Can Be Toxic for Male Body Image Too

Discussions on body image are often guided by women and studying the effects on women as well. But, um, why? We surely aren’t the only ones scrolling Instagram. And if we’re talking “fitspo,” I definitely see more men on IG pushing the personal trainer agenda than women. So it would only make sense that this is a commonality across the spectrum. Miss me with the machismo bullcrap; men care about how they look too. And they care A LOT. I’ve literally lost count of the amount of times I was around a male relative who was scrolling social media when they looked up at me and said something like, “I gotta get in the gym.” Also, eating disorders and mental health issues are not gender exclusive. They aren’t just “women problems.” But men are definitely less likely to speak up on their issues.

  • A study published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity found that men who viewed images of other physically fit men tended to perceive themselves as less attractive, in worse shape, and weaker than the men who viewed neutral images of men.
  • “In recent decades, images of men in the popular media of Western culture have grown increasingly large, lean, and muscular. The male body has become more visible in advertising, with a stark increase in the proportion of undressed men beginning in the 1980s, and representations of “ideal” physiques in children’s action figures have evolved to be more muscular than even the largest human bodybuilders. Boys’ body dissatisfaction has simultaneously increased, and research has demonstrated that exposure to images of extremely muscular models contributes to body dissatisfaction and muscle dysmorphia in young men.” —

Honestly, is it ever enough?

So basically, while the internet is telling me I need to get smaller, men are being pressured to go big or go home. Long gone are the days when having an “average” body was good enough. Social media is having an effect on the male body image too.

And beyond bodies, men are starting to feel even more pressure surrounding their skincare, hair loss and *whispers* penis size. In order to even begin fixing these issues, we need to have more open and honest conversations about the way we are affected by social media – starting at a young age. And most importantly, we need to stop shaming men when they speak up on mental health issues.

As parents, limiting our children’s access to social media can help to curb some of the early body image issues developing in young boys and girls. There is nothing your child is missing out on by not downloading TikTok at 12.

Above all else, I think it is important to remind ourselves, male or female that the images we see portrayed in social media are not realistic. We can be healthy, happy and whole without looking like the newest trending trainer on social media.