Boys bulk up for the ‘perfect’ bod
A TROUPE of muscle men taking over movie screens and social media is leading to a health epidemic among Queensland teens.
Boys as young as 15 are resorting to extreme lengths to emulate unrealistic body images, turning to steroids and excessive gym and eating regimens in a bid to get big.
University of Queensland anthropologist Mair Underwood said while the dangers of young women falling victim to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia had been well documented, the spotlight was shifting to teenage boys who feel “immense pressure” to bulk up.
“They’re presented with completely unachievable and unrealistic ideals,” Dr Underwood said. “Look at today’s action figures and cartoon characters – they’re becoming so muscular you can’t even achieve that appearance with the use of steroids. These young men have grown up with that and haven’t ever known any different.”
In a society where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – 120kg of pure muscle and almost 2m tall – is one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, it’s easy to see why boys, some who haven’t even reached puberty, struggle with feelings of inadequacy.
“Look at the Wolverine action figure – his chest measurement is the same as his height,” Dr Underwood said.
“Just from social media we are seeing 15-year-old steroid users and it doesn’t seem to be such an anomaly anymore.”
University of Melbourne research fellow Scott Griffiths is a key investigator of body dysmorphia, a mental illness where sufferers obsessively focus on a perceived flaw in appearance, and one that is increasingly being faced by young men.
“It’s clear there’s an increasing number of boys and men … crossing the line and hurting themselves to achieve a certain body image,” Dr Griffiths said.
“There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being in the gym and following a diet and caring about physical appearance, but it is a concern when they get to the point where they can’t come off steroids.”
Psychologist Rachel Cohen said the unrealistic and unachievable body ideals being presented to young men were causing “significant” emotional harm and “can reach extreme levels YOU’RE never too young to learn healthy habits – that’s the case at St Laurence’s College where a new state-ofthe-art gym is one of the most popular elements of the curriculum.
Since April, students at the South Brisbane all-boys school have had access to a highperformance exercise centre and dedicated staff who are helping them get fit and learn healthy habits safely.
The school’s director of sport, Eddie Wallace, said the program was about improving health and fitness rather than focusing on looks.
“With this age we don’t like them using big weights, it’s unsafe, so it’s all about improving ... flexibility, core strength and co-ordination,” he said. Mr Wallace said the school worked hard to make sure students did not feel the brunt of body image pressure.
Lachlan Joliffe, 12, said: “I do a lot of sports like crosscountry, athletics and tennis ... so it’s nothing to do with getting bulky.”
with eating disorders, over exercising, depression, anxiety and even some quite obsessive behaviours”.
Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor Evonne Miller said it was important parents of young men stressed the importance of character and personality over looks.
St Laurence’s College students Connor La Frenais, 14, Lachlan Joliffe, 12, and Kieran Armitage, 13, hit the gym, which can be beneficial for boys if they choose health over looks.