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Unrealistic Body Image Perceptions Can Begin at the age of 5 for Boys

Update Date: Jun 27, 2014 01:54 PM EDT

Body image issues are often perceived as women's problems. Even though women might have higher rates of eating disorders, researchers constantly remind people that boys can suffer from these conditions as well. In a new study, researchers analyzed boys' perceptions of the male body. They found that boys as young as five already have developed unrealistic ideas of what the male body should look like.

In this study out of Flinders University located in South Australia, the researchers recruited 33 boys between the ages of five and 10. The boys were attending a metropolitan school in Adelaide. The researchers carried out in-depth group interviews that asked questions about the male body and what these young boys believed it should look like.

"The boys were all firm in their belief that men have muscles," Flinders Professor of Sport, Health and Physical Education Murray Drummond stated according to Medical Xpress. "Regardless of age, the boys understood they weren't yet capable of attaining a highly muscular physique, as some boys stated, 'like my dad', but there was a sense of inevitability that they would become big and muscular simply by becoming a man."

Drummond, who worked with Flinders Social Health Sciences Senior Lecturer Dr. Claire Drummond, stated that this perception of the male body as one that is muscular, strong and powerful is very unrealistic. They stated that almost all of the boys believed that having muscles and a six-pack was aesthetically pleasing for the opposite sex.

"When commenting on an AFL player, one eight-year-old said; 'I really like him because he's really strong and he's muscly and he's tough and if he gets punched in the head he doesn't cry', which was indicative of the way most Year 3 boys articulated their view on men, muscles and strength," Professor Drummond said, "Asked whether it was important to be muscly, the same boy stated; 'yes because you win', so for most boys the equation looks something like muscles = strength = power and dominance."

These perceptions could indicate young boys' risk of developing body image issues. However, the researchers acknowledged the fact that they did not find any evidence that glorifying muscles contributed to body image disorders. The researchers added it would not hurt if school programs regarding body image issues focused on boys as well.

"It's also important that both boys and girls are privy to sharing discussion around the topic, rather than in gendered isolation, given the significance of society in shaping body ideals for both genders," Professor Drummond stressed.

The study, "It's all about the six-pack: Boys' bodies in contemporary Western culture," was published in the Journal of Child Health Care.

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