By Miriam Alghothani, ’15 and Hashem Anabtawi, ’15
Teenage males reflect on the societal pressure to maintain a muscular physique despite long term health effects
“Pizza, burgers and fries!
“Pizza, burgers and fries!”
Students’ chants rang through the Jones Middle School cafeteria as junior Cole Clinger looked down at the floor in embarrassment. Clinger weighed 265 pounds in seventh-grade and these chants were daily occurrences.
Now, Clinger’s friends compliment his new figure. He walks the halls with his head held high after his 100-pound weight loss.
Being a male, Clinger felt pressured to avoid showing his self-consciousness to prevent further teasing. The same societal pressure to look attractive is as prevalent for males as much as it is females, as individuals strive to achieve societal acceptance.
Although Clinger’s former weight stunted his athletic performance, he was an active teenager who played for Jones Middle School’s baseball and football teams. Weight loss attempts, however, were never very successful. But his life took a turn when his doctor informed him of possible upcoming health problems.
“I was close to getting diabetes,” Clinger said. “Being 265 pounds at age 13 was definitely not healthy and I would have eventually gotten worse.”
For Clinger, future health concerns only played a small role in his self-resentment. Clinger suffered name-calling and was a victim of ‘fat jokes,’ making him feel self-conscious.
“I was teased a lot in middle school,” Clinger said. “I was verbally abused and it made me feel out of place but without the teasing, it never would’ve hit me that I really need to change,” Clinger said.
The verbal bullying and societal standards pressured Clinger into transforming his body.
“There is a major influence to look ripped in society, especially in Upper Arlington. If you don’t [look good], it’s easy to be excluded from the crowd,” Clinger said. “Clearly there’s a focus on the good looking guys in media and commercials, they’re everywhere.”
Clinger decided to undergo a surgery to reduce the size of his stomach, thus causing a rapid weight loss.
As expected, Clinger lost 100 pounds from the surgery, reducing his risk of various health problems.
“The doctors cut my stomach by 90 percent and then stapled it shut,” Clinger said. “They reduced it from the size of a football to the size of a fist, making me drop 100 pounds because now I don’t have to eat as much.”
Clinger reflects on his experience and encourages others to ignore societal judgement.
“People will judge you based on how you look and people will always try to find a way to make fun of you in life and your weight is just one more opportunity to be made fun of,” Clinger said. “But things get better if you just tough through it.”
Clinger’s story is one of many in which young men are pressured by society to transform their body image.
Recent research shows that males are just as pressured as females to have an accepted body figure.
Commercials such as Victoria’s Secret have made teenage females feel they have a standard to live up to, according to Jo Swinson of CNN News.
However, something that is not as prevalent in their male counterparts is the same pressure depicting false beauty, according to Clare Johnston of Daily Record News.
“Nearly one in five teenage boys are extremely concerned about their weight and physique,” Johnston wrote.
Teenage males are known to cover up personal issues to avoid being made fun of.
“I tried to cover up how I felt about my body image to avoid being made fun of again,” Clinger said. “But inside I would always think, ‘Wow I wish I looked like that guy’ and that’s an unfair thing, because not everyone is given that chance.”
Clinger believes he is not alone as a self-conscious teenager.
“[The pressure to] look hot is clearly there for girls and not as obvious for boys, but it’s still there,” he said.
Sophomore Will Collis believes this type of pressure is also evident and explains where he would be if he had not grown past his self-consciousness.
“If I was any more self conscious, it would definitely take a stronger toll on my everyday life in that all I would do is focus on losing weight and looking good,” Collis said. “I would resort to starving myself, eating less, and [my body image] would take over my whole life and I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else.”
Studies by The New York Times reveal that teenage males overcome this type of pressure through action rather than emotion. Teenage males exercise with intents of increasing muscle mass at a young age and use drugs and supplements to catalyze the process.
“More than 40 percent of boys beginning in middle school and throughout high school said they regularly exercised with the goal of increasing muscle mass,” Douglas Quenqua of The New York Times wrote. “38 percent said they used protein supplements, and nearly six percent said they had experimented with steroids.”
A lack of self-confidence in and the desire to change one’s body is prevalent at UA, as shown in the results of a 100 student survery.
70 percent of UAHS male students said they would change a minimum of three parts of their body. Likewise, over 60 percent of the males surveyed said the desire for change is sexual appeal as well as societal and peer pressure.
Long Term Effects
The strong pressure on males is one that affects them further than their physical appearance. Mental disorders have become a direct effect of this pressure, altering a teenager’s life.
With the portrayal of attractive celebrities in the media, the risk for health illnesses has increased on current teenage males, according to Daily Record News.
“It’s a pressure some teens are finding hard to cope with and can trigger depression or cause them to turn to alcohol and drugs,” Johnson wrote. “With images everywhere of stars, it’s not hard to see where the pressure is coming from.”
In addition to pressure from handsome actors and music artists, teenage male athletes are also under the influence to live up to society’s standards. To do this, athletes sometimes lose weight by resorting to starving, according to Paul Florez of The Huffington Post.
“Men who participate in low-weight oriented sports such as jockeys, wrestlers and runners are at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder such as Anorexia or Bulimia,” Florez wrote. “The pressure to succeed and be the best can help to contribute to the onset of their disordered eating.”
Senior Allison Martin has done extensive research on eating disorders in teenagers for her Capstone project. Martin, who had an eating disorder in eighth-grade, explains what the most common influence is that leads directly to certain health problems.
“Sociocultural factors such as communications made by an individual’s culture, media influences, friends and peers which that individual perceives as pressuring them to achieve a certain body type are correlated with eating disorders,” Martin wrote.
With the goal of becoming the best athlete, teenage males work out at an early age, which can stunt the growth of their body.
“Boys who chase an illusory image of manhood can end up stunting their development, particularly when they turn to supplements or steroids to supercharge their results,” Quenqua wrote.
As every person perceives the influences of media and society differently, males feel pressured to achieve idealized muscular body type that often shows up in commercials. Collis believes there is clearly favoritism towards attractive and muscular men in the media.
“The media is definitely one-sided and that makes some people fall into the kind of pressure thinking, ‘I want to look like that guy,’” Collis said. “Also, when girls are all after the hot celebrity male who is buff and ripped it makes teenage guys strive to be that one guy.”
According to Martin, the pressure that society puts on males to constantly seem confident and mentally unshakeable is dangerous, as this makes males less likely to acknowledge body image concerns.
As a result, there is a greater risk of negative eating behaviors that often go unreported, and are likely an even bigger problem than researchers estimate.
Sometimes, body image issues go unnoticed even by pediatricians. Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said that pediatricians overlook possibilities of body image concerns in their male patients.
“Clinicians may not be aware that some of their male patients are so preoccupied with their weight and shape that they are using unhealthy methods to achieve the physique they desire,” Field said in a statement to CBS News.
Although Collis has not suffered from eating disorders or starvation, he believes the pressure to succeed is especially prevalent for athletes in Upper Arlington.
“As athletes in UA, we have an expectation to live up to as we’ve won multiple state championships and that kind of pressure to be in the greatest shape possible is there,” Collis said. “Some athletes, such as wrestlers, might starve themselves and that seems rash, but I would never go to such extremes to change who I am.”
Senior Taylor Neely has been a competitive athlete since he was six-years-old. Since then, Neely has built his body to suit his athletic life through countless hours at the gym.
“During the season, the time I would spend working out could go from after school at 3:30 p.m until 7 p.m for football every day and for wrestling it was even longer,” Neely said. “When I’m not in a sport I can only spend about an hour in the gym four days a week because I don’t have the time.”
As for eating disorders and behavior in modern day athletes, wrestlers attract attention because they form counterproductive eating habits through a concept called “making weight.”
“Making weight is when wrestlers have to make sure they’re below a certain weight class that they’re signed up to wrestle in,” Neely said.
The measures these wrestlers take to make weight many times are drastic and counterproductive.
“For me, I would not eat sometimes, watch what I did eat, and binge eat before a wrestling match to gain the energy,” Neely said. “Sometimes I’d go into the showers to sweat off water weight but eventually you start to lose actual weight which is unhealthy instead of water weight.”
Monitoring food consumption is an extra stress on top of the stresses of student life, which can lead to emotional consequences such as poor self-esteem, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix of US News.
Starvation among wrestlers may lead to a shorter temper, improper sleep patterns and reduced energy levels. According to Taub-Dix, these results of starvation negatively impact the ability to study, concentrate and pay attention in class.
Neely believes this is a poor system as he experiences negative effects on his daily life as well.
“It’s not healthy to starve yourself and it’s not healthy to not be at your natural body weight but it’s a part of the sport and it’s definitely a flaw,” Neely said. “When I’m cutting weight I’m at my lowest point and that impacts my school and social life because it’s hard to stay energetic around people and focus on work.”
Although this custom is not healthy, junior wrestler Thomas Cooper believes the system cannot be changed now.
“This is the way the system has been for ages and it’s not okay to change it now,” Cooper said.
When wrestlers such as Cooper starve themselves, they are neglecting their body needs, Taub-Dix wrote.
“Those who starve themselves run the risk of injury, as not having the proper diet makes it harder to recover from injuries and accidents,” according to Taub-Dix.
Junior Gracie Bergdoll has seen how society pressures teenagers to look attractive, creating a focus on appearance rather than personality.
“Everyone should love themselves for who they are and not worry what others think about them,” Bergdoll said. “I know it’s easier said than done, but [teenagers should] try to stick to it.”