Body image is an issue affecting every one of our boys, regardless of their age, size, shape and weight. Each day, our sons internalize an impossible body ideal from seemingly harmless sources: peers, coaches, social media, advertisements, characters in video games and action movies, school curriculums and even comments from parents and siblings at home.
Bonnie Brennan, a nationally-recognized body image and eating disorder expert and a mother of teenage boys lead our us through a compassionate, honest exploration of the unique body image challenges facing our boys today.
Here are some highlights:
Boy’s behavior reflects their body image. Boys project how they are feeling internally by what they wear, eat, and act.
If you are concerned, then ask open ended non-judgmental questions:
~What does it feel like in your body when things are ok verses when things are not ok?
~Start sentences with I hear…. I have a thought…..
~ When there is a a situation and they are looking for your direction, resist the urge to tell them what to do (even if it seems obvious!). Instead, respond objectively with 5 statements that cover the bad and good outcomes. Helpful when you feel like you're "in the trap", when given this kind of guidance and direction, boys usually make the right decision.
i.e. Your son comes to you with a dilemma. His friend is having a New Years Eve party and his parents are allowing them to drink at their house. Your son asks you if he can go to the party.
1. You could have not told me. (Acknowledge the strength in their communication skills)
2. You could drink too much and get injured and then be out of basketball for the season.(Remind of dangers)
3. Adam is one of your good friends and I know you like hanging out with him. (Acknowledge the importance of his relationships and values)
4. Talk to Adam about what could go wrong, ie "Remember when your girlfriend got in trouble drinking at a party?" (Encourage them to explore consequences with peer)
5. Is there something else you could chose to do for New Years Eve? (Encourage them to think about other alternatives)
If your son says, “I’m fat.” respond to his words without judgment in your voice and WAIT. Silence is ok. Let him think about what you said and process it before you answer your own question!
~ I see that you are in pain.
~ I hear you saying this is hard for you.
~ When do you not feel this way?
~ Figure out what is important to your boys. Is it that they want to look like everyone else? Feel connected to others? Feel like they belong?
~ DO NOT say “Oh no you’re not. You are perfect. I love you just the way you are.” Always acknowledge their truth even if you disagree.
Bonnie Brennan’s Moments from the event to remember:
We hurt where we care. We feel pain about things that mean something to us.
You can’t feel the good without getting through the some hard times.
Don’t talk about your own body image issues. Don’t say “I am so fat” in front of your boys. Avoid talking about looking a certain way and focus on qualities you like a person like their healthy ways or strengths. Always focus on WHO you are not WHAT you are, and talk about our bodies in terms of what they can do for us (run, stretch, ski, play, climb, etc) and not what they look like.
Your boys are watching adult role models in their life for how they should feel about their bodies and what their bodies “should” look like. Small comments like, “you should do a few push up before eating that cup cake,” actually impact our boys in a HUGE WAY. Be aware of what they are hearing from you and other adults in their lives (dads, grandparents, coaches).
We all go through seasons of eating. It could be a growth spurt. The average boy will grow 12-14 inches and gain 50-60 lbs in normal puberty!
Eating habits change when used as a tool to control anxiety and/ or trauma (restricting food/calories, eliminating calories consumed through excessive exercise, vomiting, laxatives). Eating disorders are NOT about looking a certain way to make themselves attractive to girls, they are about using food as a tool to manage underlying negative feelings.
Well adjusted kids have parents who share their own stories of pain or problems. Parents who share how they overcame a hardship from the past provide a connection and an example for their boys. Showing your boys your imperfections is helpful and gives them so courage to work through their challenges.
If you have any concerns about a loved one , please contact:
The Eating Recovery Center: There are 8 centers in Denver.
Our speaker Bonnie Brennan works in the Lowry branch.:
8199 East 1st Avenue
Denver, CO 80230