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#1 2020-01-31 22:19:29

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Перевод с английского. Публицистика.

I worry for my teenage boys – the beauty standards for young men are out of control

Emma Beddington

From men’s magazines to the chiselled gods of Love Island, boys are inundated with messages to both bulk up and moisturise. It all reminds me of my own youth, much of it wasted on bulimia

It’s that time of the month when an ominous thud through the letterbox heralds the arrival of my 17-year-old son’s Men’s Health magazine. As I pick it up, my eyes narrow in suspicious disapproval. What glistening slab of mesomorph flesh will be on the cover this time? What should my boy build, crush, smash or ignite this month? What body part needs to be dominated? It’s almost certainly something to do with abs: a cursory review of back issues lying around the house reveals only one cover star allowed to wear a top. Men’s Health is no country for the dad bod or for the scrawny goths I idolised during my adolescence: the sheer acreage of veiny thoroughbred muscle on show is enough to give anyone a complex. Honestly, it’s so depressing. Isn’t adolescence hard enough without discovering that even your calves need to be bulked up? What even is a deltoid and can’t we just leave it alone?

Yet it’s unfair to single out Men’s Health, which has plenty of good, thoughtful coverage of male mental health and stress issues amid all the hard, lean, fat-burning content. It’s also pretty quaint to think any part of the struggling magazine industry could be having a serious impact on boys’ body image with a whole digital world of #fitspo and #workout posts to obsess over, and the chiselled gods of Love Island everywhere in their tiny trunks. The lack of variety among this years’ candidates is as predictable as it is disappointing: hairless and six-packed, with arms like giant hams and thighs like tree trunks, they all have precisely the unattainable look my boys’ generation seems to aspire to.

With all this to contend with, it’s no surprise young men now struggle with body image almost as much as young women. We’re equal-opportunities body dysmorphic in 2020: the number of men getting treatment for eating disorders increased by 70% between 2010 and 2016, according to NHS statistics, and last year the Children’s Society Good Childhood report revealed that one in 12 boys are unhappy with their appearance.

With two teenage sons, the whole uneasy business of young men’s body image is very immediate for me. Protein is a household deity and our cupboards are full of pre- and post-workout powders and potions with violently overwrought names (Beast, Curse, X-Plode, Venom). The parents of other teenage boys I know report the same; one of my friends even wrote a poem about her son’s protein powders sharing a shelf with her dad’s ashes.

Boys care about how they look in more unexpected ways, too. My sons’ bathroom shelf has a Boots’ worth of scrubs and moisturisers, AHA peels and facial oils. One of my boys even asked me to buy him £40 eye cream. Eye cream! I’m 45 and I can’t be bothered with eye cream. At 15 and 17, they and their mates glow with health and youth and a single moment spent worrying about how they look seems to me a ludicrous waste of time.

Of course it’s not bad to care about your health and your appearance at their or at any age. There’s certainly nothing admirable about my own lapse into neglected cronedom, exfoliating with a crusty flannel once a week. On one level, you could argue that they are an informed generation, practising self-care, exercising regularly and eating well. It’s the kind of stuff the runaway popularity of Queer Eye has reminded us many older men neglect.

But at an age when body image is fragile and your sense of self is in flux, it’s so easy for looking after yourself to shade into obsession. I should know: part of my visceral reaction to this stuff is a product of my own history. I used to read women’s health and fitness magazines religiously on the way to the clinic where I was treated as an outpatient for bulimia in my 20s, internalising the diet tips and eating plans that seemed to validate my rules, restrictions and rituals. I wasted years of my life on this stuff; no wonder a cover line such as: “Return to slender for good today!” makes me bristle.

My boys are probably fine: they like a biscuit as much as a facial serum. But I can’t help worrying for the vulnerable ones, the ones like me, who will take this stuff and turn it into a joyless obsession. I managed it back when I needed to go to WHSmith to fuel my disorder; now there’s a whole digital industry to feed the beast.

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