There is a misnomer in America: Girls are the only ones who pick apart what they look like. However, did you ever notice in those Abercrombe & Fitch & Hollister ads that annoy us at the mall, there isn’t just a beautiful, half-naked woman. Instead there with her is a “buff,” gorgeous guy, showing the world his six pack abs.
Think about these stats from the National Association of Eating Disorders, The New York Times and the Self Esteem Institute:
- More than 40 percent of boys in middle school and high school regularly exercise with the goal of increasing muscle mass.
- 38 percent of boys in middle school and high school reported using protein supplements and nearly 6 percent admitted to experimenting with steroids.
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
The world is not just pushing our young women to look a certain way. For a pudgy Middle School boy awaiting his growth spurt, they are shown the “comic relief” in media has glasses and a little bit of weight. The nerd or geek is lanky and the one who “messes up.” We all “know” the one that “gets the girl,” is athletic, tall, slim and strong.
I think it’s time we recognize that while boys are appearing goofy and just trying to show off for the girls, there are long term consequences to the way they see themselves. According to a study done by Florida State University drug usage is higher in 20 year old males when they have experienced low self-esteem in Middle and High School. Gangs are known to recruit not only in the inner city, but now in suburban and even rural areas, males who feel disconnected from family and are looking for a place to be respected.
How do we help the young men in our lives?
1. Deal With It
Boys will tell you this is a “girl’s issue” while at the same time sweating the next time they will have to change for gym class. Talk about the topic in your programming, and one on one. It is helpful to have the discussion in small groups of BOTH mixed and single genders. This way you can get to the heart behind the “why” to the low self- esteem. Is it the “comparison game,” or are they suffering bullying, verbal abuse at home or perhaps all of the above? Try allowing students to write anonymous questions on index cards and pass them in regularly.
2. What Is the Image Of God?
Genesis does not declare that Adam was created looking like an underwear model. The distortion is that our bodies became “ugly” when sin entered the world. If the Lord continues to create people of all shapes and sizes could it be instead our perception is skewed? Take the time to dig into the Word and what it means to look at yourself in the mirror and truly be God’s reflection.
3. Promote Healthiness:
High School athletics often push for guys to make time to bulk up so they can have a better performance. If you have to “make weight” with anything, there are rarely ideas in how to eat well and merely exercise. Instead, we live in a fast food culture with “easy to make” meals. Rarely are students being taught ideas like portion control, or better choices in food. What about teaching about nutrition, and balance in working out within the context of your ministry? Practical and spiritual need to collide sometimes.
4. Modeling Life
Our goto is to usually to say that we need more Christ centered men to speak into the lives of our boys. This is true. However, it isn’t just words they need to hear. It’s the way we live. Are you a guy who is super competitive or driven to be over the top fit? Are you a Dad who might be a little too “into” whether or not your son wins at sports? It goes for us women too. Are we saying that what matters is character and a life founded on Jesus while at the same time off handed swooning at the latest action star? Are we all “joking” about the ways we wish we looked just a little bit different?
I never really knew the depth of these insecurities until my son hit puberty and began to compare himself to his friends. At the same time, his friends share how inadequate they are. These are just starting points, parents need to have ongoing conversations that acknowledge insecurity is male and female. The truth is in girls or boys our appearance is way easier to take control of than our soul. We can “fix” our body, working on all the ins and outs of trying to follow Jesus and be His, takes far more effort.
How are you approaching this issue with the guys in your ministry?