I have not seen my thirteen-year-old son’s legs in over a year.
Last summer, he wore sweatshirts and long pants every single day, even if it was in the 90s. I’d constantly ask him why he didn’t want to put on something more comfortable and he’d always replay with, “I’m fine.”
His love for long beach days disappeared. When he’d go to summer camp and they’d announce they’d be having a “water day” so everyone should bring their suits, he’d opt to roll up his sweatpants and wade instead.
It broke my heart and I’d try to help by offering to take him shopping, or telling how great he looked (because he does), but I’d just cause him to shut down even more.
My son is almost 6 feet tall and weighs about 130 pounds. He went from a happy kid who could care less about what he wore and how the world saw him, to being overly aware of his long, thin body.
He used to happily strip off his shirt as soon as it got too hot to wear it while playing outside with his friends. Going to the lake or pool for the day was his favourite way to spend his summer holiday. He’d love picking out swimming trucks– the wilder and brighter the colours, the better.
Now, he not only wants to hide his chest and core after growing over five inches last year, he doesn’t even want his arms and legs to be seen. It’s as if he doesn’t know how to be in his new body. And I feel helpless.
The thing is, body issues don’t only pertain to our girls. Our boys struggle too. Sometimes their insecurities are harder to recognise. They might choose bigger clothing or layers to hide their thinness, or extra weight.
Or it might become a very clear issue, they may take up weight lifting and become obsessed with getting enough calories to put on weight. They might limit calories and exercise like crazy to lose weight.
They might let you in on what they think about their body, but they might not.
After all, my son doesn’t come out and say he doesn’t like the way he looks in jeans like my daughter does. Of course, I think he’d feel better if he just talked about it a bit, but he clearly doesn’t want to.
We’ve come a long way when it comes to generalizing the sexes, but there’s still work to do– our boys don’t feel comfortable talking about their insecurities when it comes to their physique. To many of them, those are female issues which should be saved for girls’ night out, the locker room, or behind a closed door in tears.
They are taught to be tough, not care, and “man up” when it comes to certain things.
But, research suggest eating disorders affect about 1 in 4 of our boys. This isn’t limited to anorexia, either. It also includes reverse anorexia, also know as the preoccupation with bulking up or getting bigger through consuming a lot of calories and lifting heavy weights.
1 in 4.
If you ask me, that’s too many boys who are walking around not even comfortable in the own skin. My guess is most of them don’t even know how to begin talking about it.
For now, I’m keeping a close eye on my son. He eats a balanced diet, he doesn’t weight himself, and he’s not trying to put on weight. But, that doesn’t mean it won’t come later. I want to be able to recognise the signs if his unhappiness with his body escalates even more.
I certainly can’t force him to wear cooler clothes that reveal his body parts when it gets warmer– I think that would only make him feel more insecure.
But, I can remind him how wonderful (and healthy) he is. I can be a safe place to land if he needs to talk about anything. I can pay attention and get him the help he needs if it comes to that because I’m certainly not an expert in the area and I won’t pretend to be.
I refuse to let this issue go, or assume it will simply “blow over” because he’s a male. I won’t leave him to figure it out on his own.
No, we’ll get through this together no matter what it takes.