The Startling Body Image Disorder On The Rise Among Teenage Boys

We often focus on women in conversations about body image, but many men are insecure about their bodies as well. Teenage boys, in particular, face a lot of pressure to look good for their peers. The latest trend that has gripped male teenagers is being referred to as 'bigorexia' (via WebMD). Many adolescent boys feel the need to bulk up and appear strong, fit, and muscular. "The pandemic and social media have been a perfect storm for eating disorders and body image issues for all teens, but this has been under-recognized in boys," said Jason Nagata, MD, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "Both are directly connected to an increase in muscle dysmorphia."

According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, about 30% of teenage boys in the U.S. are trying to gain muscle. Another study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that 22% of young adult males are participating in behaviors to obtain an 'ideal' physique, including excessive exercise, eating more, and taking supplements or steroids.

The role social media plays in the issue

Experts believe that the rise of social media use among adolescents plays a large role in the 'bigorexia' issue. Many teenage boys have become wealthy social media stars at a young age by showing off their bodies online. "An everyday teen can become a celebrity," Jason Nagata, MD, told WebMD. "Then, thanks to social media algorithms, if a teenage boy likes or interacts with a post that features a muscular guy or is all about fitness, they'll start getting all sorts of related content. They'll get bombarded with tons of ads for protein shakes, for example, as well as bodybuilding equipment, and that will further distort reality."

If you're worried that your child has become obsessed with body image, don't be afraid to bring up your concerns. While eating healthy and working out are important for teenagers, developing an eating disorder can cause long-term health issues. You can also bring up your concerns with your pediatrician.