Blokes and their bodies
Who says boys don't care about their bits? It might seem like it's only girls who worry about how they appear, but the evidence around us says that many blokes are just as bothered. TheSite.org discovers why body image is a hot topic for young men.
Lads, as well as the lasses, think it's important to keep up appearances, as 16 year-old Elliot admits. Elliot works hard at maintaining his body because he thinks you "have to" and that looking good isn't a choice, it's a necessity. But he's also concerned about his health, and does boxing training to keep up his stamina.
"I don't want to be tired and slow all the time and I don't want to be fat. I'm faster and fitter now than I used to be," says Elliot. "It gives you more status to look good and people take you more seriously."
Others spend huge amounts on toiletries and clothes, 20 year-old Liam being one of them. "About £500 of my monthly salary goes on clothes and products to look after my skin, as well as smelly stuff and getting my hair done," he says. "There's more pressure nowadays on guys to do this, but I don't think it's a bad thing."
Keeping up with the gay scene
When it comes down to experiencing pressure to look good, gay men are very likely to feel the strain, too. Russell, from Manchester, is 21 and gay. He feels that there are considerable demands within the gay community to look good, because the gay media only presents one 'type' of man as the 'ideal' - the muscle-bound, super good-looking, slick-haired variety.
"I would never go anywhere without looking glammed up," confesses Russell. "It's high on my agenda, and the gay men's magazines portray an image that most gay men try and follow. You can choose whether to give a damn, but people who say they don't probably do on some level inside."
It sounds a tough act to follow - Russell himself goes to the gym a number of times a week and does press-ups at least four or five times. He says he never leaves the house without looking his best and thinks that there are many people 'on the scene' who have low self-esteem, and that he used to be one of them until he changed the way he looked.
But problems are arising for young men. The number of males who have an eating disorder is increasing, and according to the Eating Disorders Association (EDA), a quarter of all those affected at school age are boys. And the difficulty many blokes have verbalising or expressing their feelings means they struggle even more when problems do develop.
About £500 of my monthly salary goes on clothes and products to look after my skin, as well as smelly stuff and getting my hair done.
Over-exercising, being obsessed with your weight or appearance, excessive dieting, taking steroids and other unhealthy behaviours to get the 'right body' can indicate a problem. If any of these issues ring true for you, you might find it useful to talk things through with your doctor (GP).
Lucy Emmerson, a sex and relationships trainer at Brook in Birmingham, feels there is less information for young men to access, which compounds the problems. "Young men suffer as much if not more from ignorance and playground myths," she says. "While young women's magazines help enormously with accurate information, young men's magazines tend not to."
Whether you're gay or straight, this kind of pressure and misinformation can cause problems if you don't keep a check on reality. Walking down the street, how many men look like they've just walked off the front cover of Men's Health? Very few, if any, on your average shopping day in a suburban town. Still, keeping that rationale in mind isn't always easy.
So how can you stop yourself from getting too caught up in how you look and get some perspective on it? Preventative methods, of course, are always better than cure. Sticking to a healthy eating plan, alongside three or four exercise sessions a week is the best way to stay fit and healthy outside and in. Find a balance by varying the types of exercise you take part in, rather than getting over-obsessed with the same type of sport or gym routine. Join a club or enrol a group of friends into a sports league, that way you'll be exercising and socialising at the same time, not focussing all your attention on how many calories you're burning or how much your biceps are bulging.
Lucy feels that when dealing with your self-perceptions, it's important you consider that your own body is unique. She says that it helps if you can learn more about yourself physically, developing your understanding of how your body works, as well as your emotions.
Aiming to improve your health and social life - doing things for you rather than because you feel you have to - all help to build your self-esteem and confidence, which in turn will help to you to think positively about yourself.
Tony Cesay, a boxer who runs Omnibus Kid Gloves (an East London-based 'education through sports' boxing training), recommends that young men keep fit, eat well, and educate themselves about better health and futures. He says, "When young men are looking after themselves, it will improve their thinking and help them make healthier choices about their lives."
Written by Andrea Wren
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