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Boys need support for positive body image

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It is vital that teachers and school leaders understand that body image and eating disorders are developing and increasing in those who identify as boys and men, according to Danni Rowlands, National Manager, Prevention Services, Butterfly Foundation.

Understanding these issues in females has largely been the focus of body image and eating disorder research studies and treatment programs to date due to the greater prevalence of these issues amongst girls and women.

Research now confirms that eating disorders and negative body image in males are increasing.

“The relationship a young person has with their body is a complex one. In our image obsessed society, where young people are bombarded with narrow, stereotypical appearance and beauty ideals at every turn, the pressures on body image are more intense than ever before,” Danni Rowlands said.

While there are many similarities when it comes to how body image concerns develop in girls and boys, Rowlands explains that there are a few differences including the appearance ideal that is being pursued. For girls, the drive is mostly for ‘thinness’ and for boys, mostly the lean, muscular ideal.

“The increased drive for muscularity is contributing to body concerns in boys and negatively influencing the exercise and eating behaviours they engage in. It is important that when considering boys and their body image that the role of masculinity is also considered.

"Physical strength and muscularity (muscle size) is too often celebrated in a man and this is problematic. With an increase in adolescent males overusing supplements and turning to steroids, it is important that muscular-masculine ideals are challenged,” Rowlands said.

Stigma remains a significant barrier to boys and young men seeking help and Rowlands believes this stems from the common misunderstanding that negative body image and eating disorders only affect females.

“Body image concerns develop later in adolescents for boys, and boys who experience body dissatisfaction are also more likely to experience depressive symptoms. Stigma for boys is the most significant barrier to boys seeking help so it is important that awareness is raised so boys feels more open to speaking up when struggling with body image/eating concerns,” Rowlands said.

The rise in social media is often cited as one of the greatest challenges for young people and their body image. It’s a notion Rowlands supports along with the “confusing and often unhelpful health messaging being reinforced by the pervasive diet and exercise culture.”

Weight stigma and discrimination is also something that is significantly impacting the relationship many young people have with their body, and this is underpinning the volume of weight and appearance bullying and teasing that is happening in schools, Australia-wide says Rowlands.

When The Education Show opens in Melbourne at the end of the month, Rowlands will speak at a free session to help educators have positive conversations with their students.

The session presented by The Butterfly Foundation on Friday 30 August 2019 – ‘Supporting a positive body image in boys’ – will cover the risk and protective factors in boys which are an important start for educators to better connect, relate and support Australian boys.

The Education Show is a key event of the National Education Summit, a professional development event for principals, school leaders and educators from K-12 on Friday 30 August and Saturday 31 August 2019.

Held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Show features 100+ exhibitors showcasing the latest cutting-edge learning and teaching resources along with programs, support services and technology to educators from across Australia. Visitors can also attend the Free Education Program, as well as the Free Spotlight Stage where exhibitors will provide in depth information about their service, program or resource.

Rowlands is excited to see that there is greater acceptance and understanding about eating disorders generally in the community.

To register for Danni Rowland’s session and others within the free seminar session at The Education Show, visit

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