Guys and body image

There’s a kind of myth that guys aren’t supposed to worry about how they look, but growing up and feeling your body change is a tough time for everyone. Some guys hit puberty early and look like Chris Hemsworth by the time they’re fifteen. Others are late bloomers, and might not fill out, or grow body hair until well after school.

Either way, body image and self-esteem issues are becoming increasingly common amongst guys. And with a culture that pushes constant comparisons, it’s easy to feel you haven’t got the ‘right’ body. If you ever wonder where this might be an issue for you, read on to get the real deal.

This can help if:

  • You worry about how you look

  • You’re concerned about delayed development

  • You feel pressure to get bigger

  • You compare yourself to other guys

  • You want some tips to improve your body image

Boys legs with sneakers on

The pressure

Body image is a leading cause of stress for young men, so chances are most of your mates are also worried about how they look, where they’re at physically or why they’re not big enough. Here are some factors to consider if you’re already stressing.

Getting massive’ is a socially driven idea

Start travelling and you’ll notice that the ‘ideal’ body size depends on where you are. In London, skinny guys are all the rage, and the fashion trends reflect that body type. Being ‘big’ isn’t necessarily the gold standard everywhere.

Bunch of mates, different rates

No two people develop in the same way, especially when it comes to your physical features. Some of your mates might be hairless, while you’re already rocking a beard or vice versa. In six months your best friend might be six foot, while you’re still waiting to shoot up. We’re all different, but if you’re slow to start, while the rest are racing ahead, it can feel like a big deal. Remember that we all develop at our own pace.

Natural progress is the way to go

Working out is a smart way to boost endorphins and feel better about yourself, but skip the supplements, especially while you’re still going through puberty. Bulking products can have long-term effects on your height, muscles, skin and even genitals.

Is negative body image a problem for you?

Eating well and staying fit are important parts of a healthy lifestyle, but feeling self-conscious about your body can quickly become a problem if it starts to take over your life.

You might be experiencing body image problems if you:

  • Feel that your body isn’t good enough.

  • Avoid certain things – swimming, getting your shirt off – because you’re not keen on how you look.

  • Obsess over certain physical characteristics (e.g. facial hair, muscles).

  • Look in the mirror and criticise yourself.

  • Feel self-conscious about having your photo taken.

  • Talk yourself down, or make a joke out of your appearance.

  • Blame yourself when you forget to exercise or you eat junk food.

  • Use food or exercise for comfort.

  • Take supplements such as steroids and hormones to get bigger muscles.

How to improve your body image

While you might not be able to improve negative feelings about your body overnight, improving your body image is possible.

Find a healthy balance between worshipping and ignoring your body

Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat well and stay fit, but don’t let either behaviour rule your life. If you’re playing a sport, or regularly hitting the gym, listen to your body and react accordingly. If fatigue is kicking in or you need a break, allow yourself time to rest and recover.

Develop a personal identity that isn’t based on your physical traits

Being a good bloke isn’t just about rocking a six-pack, having the deepest voice or the biggest shoulders. Learn to appreciate your other strengths; a sense of humour, kindness and compassion. A man is the sum of many parts, but how you look will never be as important as the kind of person you are.

Appreciate how awesome your body is

Be grateful for what your body can do, as opposed to what it looks like.

Understand the basics of nutrition

Make informed choices about your food intake (including supplements) by reading up on scientific and medical-based information. Consult your GP or another health professional before taking supplements.

Getting help

If you’re feeling inadequate about your body or about yourself in general, it may be worth talking to someone, such as a family member, friend, teacher or counsellors. Organisations like The Butterfly Foundation are there to lend a hand if you need more information. Remember that you’re not alone: lots of guys struggle with their body image.

What can I do now?