This is the first post in a four part series titled: 4 Tips to Help Your Son Have Healthy Body Image.
Your son understands the world and what it means to be a man, in large part, through you, dad.
He sees you driving in traffic and reacting to that guy who just cut you off. He hears the tone you use when you’re in a disagreement with his mom. He watches you consume entertainment and online content.
Hopefully, he sees you model restraint on the road, hears respect in your words (as you decline to use that cleverly stinging retort that comes to mind during an argument), and watches you spend your leisure time in edifying activities.
But there is another aspect of life that is also important to be mindful of as a role model: body image.
You might not have thought of this in the context of your son before. Many assume that only women struggle with body image issues. But this is not the case, as boys and men increasingly find themselves in an unhealthy relationship with their bodies.
There are many variations of body image problems boys and men can encounter. A common one is that males compare themselves to the chiseled physiques they see in advertisements, on social media, and in action movies, and they feel they come up short. According to WebMD, “in a 2019 study that included 7,000 young American men ages 18 to 24, more than one in five of them reported eating problems related to their desire for a muscle-bound body. To bulk up, they overate and took anabolic steroids or dietary supplements.”
Comparison leads others to conclude that they are overweight, underweight, or too short. Or they are concerned that they are losing their hair or are not attractive according to some other criteria promoted in popular culture.
We can’t ensure our boys will avoid these types of struggles altogether. However, there are some things we can do to provide them with a strong foundation from which to develop a healthy body image, which brings us to . . .
Tip 1: Include your son in a lifestyle that maintains a healthy body.
You need to do this anyway—the Creator of your body expects you to take care of it.
Instead of going on and off diets, live a balanced life and maintain a healthy weight. Eat a variety of foods chosen because they are nourishing to your body and are delicious—not eating hedonistically (until you’re stuffed) nor denying yourself like an ascetic. Get proper rest. Exercise at least a little bit every day. Go to the doctor when your health requires medical attention.
Over the past year, I have made it a habit to take a daily walk with my son. Not only are we getting exercise and all the benefits that come with that, but we have about twenty minutes of uninterrupted time together to talk and joke and ponder the great questions in life—like how we can best honor God in our interactions with others and why Warner Brothers’ latest version of Daffy Duck can’t fly or swim, even though he’s a duck (two topics we have discussed this week).
Our culture gives a lot of attention to looking “buff,” but not enough to being strong. It is important to enhance our natural strength with exercise. We live in a physical world, after all, and also, this can be a great way for your son to experience greater self-confidence. No need to go extreme with this, dad. A couple sets of pushups and pull-ups each week and you’re good-to-go. Maybe a martial arts class for your son if he shows interest; bonus points if you take the class with him!
Including your son in a healthy lifestyle helps him experience satisfaction in eating and exercise. It shifts the focus from how his body looks to how he can properly maintain and enjoy his body as it was designed by God.
Your son is watching you. Show him how it’s done, dad.
Click here to read about Tip 2: Talk about your body as an important part of your existence as it was created by God.
Sean Coons is the author of Body: or, How Hope Confronts Her Shadow and Calls the Flutter Girl to Flight, a Christian fiction comedy exploring body image and intuitive eating. Sean’s latest novel, Firefly: Let There Be Light, is a middle-grade adventure slated for publication by Black Rose Writing in October 2021. Twitter: @seancoons. Facebook: @seancoonswriter. Instagram: @seanmcoons. SeanCoons.com.