BODY IM­AGE

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - CON­TIN­UED­FROM // G1

“But pos­i­tive commentary makes them feel more self-con­scious, too. It’s al­most like ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion, they’ve re­duced you to some­thing that’s to be la­belled.”

Does that mean it’s wrong to com­pli­ment some­one? I don’t think so. I like com­pli­ments. I’m even fine with spe­cific ques­tions about weight loss from peo­ple who se­ri­ously want to know, maybe be­cause they are try­ing to do the same thing.

But ap­pear­ance is tricky, maybe even more so for men, if for no other rea­son than there are fewer sup­port sys­tems.

“Women have risen up about Bar­bie, whereas men haven’t found their voice,” said St. Peters­burg ther­a­pist Kath­leen Bishop, a li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker. “They’re think­ing, ‘Maybe the rea­son the girl is not in­ter­ested in me is that I’m not as buff as the dude in the cor­ner.’?”

A study in which Thomp­son par­tic­i­pated a decade ago, of west-cen­tral Florida boys ages 13 to 17, found that 5 per cent took an­abolic steroids. Three other stud­ies of teenage boys, from 1992 to 2005, show that same fig­ure or higher. And the May 2017 Cur­rent Psy­chi­a­try Reports cor­re­lated ex­treme mea­sures by ado­les­cent males to look both mus­cu­lar and lean, in­clud­ing steroid use, with more con­ven­tion­ally de­fined eat­ing dis­or­ders among fe­males. In some cases, boys be­ing treated for anorexia shifted from “thin­ness-ori­ented” to “mus­cu­lar­ity-de­fined eat­ing dis­or­ders pre­sen­ta­tions.” The au­thors con­cluded with a plea for more re­search into tra­di­tional and mus­cu­lar­ity-de­fined eat­ing dis­or­ders in males.

Sig­nals from pop­u­lar cul­ture seem to run in two dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. In the 40 years since Star Wars de­buted, Thomp­son said, ac­tion fig­ures have bulked up sig­nif­i­cantly. “Han Solo has in­creased in size dra­mat­i­cally,” Thomp­son said. “The Hulk 30 years ago was not that big. The Hulk to­day is huge.”

At the same time, mil­len­nial male mod­els ap­pear al­most gaunt, and it’s hard to imag­ine a mus­cu­lar man fit­ting into their slim­cut clothes. “You look at pro­fes­sional golfers, there is no more mus­cu­lar­ity any­more,” Thomp­son said. “They all have the same body type. They are lean, they talk about the speed of the club do­ing the work. Look at Hol­ly­wood ac­tors other than the Rock (Dwayne John­son). Look at Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds or al­most any lead­ing male ac­tor. They are all really skinny.”

Thomp­son thinks he knows the best way to find out how males feel about their bod­ies. Ask them. “It’s al­most like we need to do a fo­cus group, get 10 or 20 boys to­gether, 15 to 18, and say, ‘What’s your ideal body type and why?’ I don’t think we know.”

My own ideal has changed sev­eral times, from mus­cu­lar to lean to what­ever comes next. I still strug­gle with fear. I look for­ward to the day when eat­ing doesn’t feel like tak­ing a pan­ther for a walk. Will it stay on the leash?

At the same time, not be­ing in cri­sis is a tremen­dous re­lief. I re­mem­ber in my most stressed-out mo­ments that I am alive and healthy. I take a deep breath, then an­other.

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