"Brawny" model Zach Miko. (Getty Images)

“Brawny” model Zach Miko. (Getty Images)

By Siobhan Conners, Plainfield North, and Jessica Bond, Kenwood

Summer is just around the corner, and with it comes talk of bikinis, juice cleanses and workout challenges. Many feel a societal pressure to be thin, tan and pretty, and the sunshine season tends to inflict even more stress surrounding appearance.

However, one almost never hears a boy whine that his arms aren’t as muscular as he’d like them to be or that he swears he’ll start his prom diet tomorrow. Do boys simply care less about their appearances? Do they have fewer insecurities?

According to Plainfield North senior Henry Ridder, the answer is no. Society pressures both boys and girls to look a certain way, but also forces boys to internalize their insecurities.

“Guys aren’t supposed to express emotions in general,” Ridder said. “I think that’s why (men’s body confidence issues) aren’t recognized.”

This mindset can be seen in the way men and women are represented in the media. It may be true that women’s appearances are emphasized more than men’s are. However, girls also have a larger platform to express themselves and spread positivity.

“If you think about clothing models, there’s a huge push for plus-sized female models but the idea of plus-sized male models is non-existent,” Ridder said.

The closest thing the modeling industry has to a plus sized male model is Zach Miko, modeling agency IMG’s “brawny” new model. Miko is six feet six inches tall and has a 40-inch waist.

“One thing that has happened in society is that terms like ‘big and tall’ and ‘plus-size,’ which are just descriptive words, have developed a negative connotation,” Miko said in an interview with WWD. “We’ve gotten to a point where fat is an insult and skinny is a compliment. Using terms like ‘brawn’” and ‘curvy’ change the connotation and celebrate these descriptions.”

While Miko’s mindset is not necessarily a rarity among men, not everyone shares his mindset. Heather Rhodes, a therapist at Rago and Associates, said she sees more teen boys than she thought she would when she started practicing.

“Often times, the (body images issues) that boys have are related to some type of sport,” Rhodes said.

Rago and Associates is a practice that focuses on body images issues; most clients work with both a therapist and a dietician. Rhodes said that throughout her experience, some of her most critical clients have been boys.

“I’ve seen many males go from extremely anorexic to extremely bulimic,” Rhodes said. “There is a pattern of them becoming bulimic, especially because they want to show that they’re okay but are still fearful of their body changing.”

Rhodes says that the most difficult obstacle for her male clients to overcome is the social schema of eating disorders. She suspects that because society frowns upon men who ask for help, there are many men suffering from eating disorders and body dysmorphia who are not receiving treatment.

“They are fearful to get help because there is the stereotype that the only males that have eating disorders are homosexual, or that only women get mental illness,” Rhodes said.

Many young men don’t want to be labeled as weak by their male counterparts, so they don’t reach out for the help the treatment they need to fix the problem. Even for guys, there is a definitely a pressure to have the “model-bod,” which includes chiseled abs and amazing biceps. Fortunately the body positive movement has been helping young men become comfortable in their bodies.

Nicholas P. Johnson, a junior at Kenwood, said that the body positive movement helps him with his self-esteem.

“I feel like society really wants me to look a certain way,” Johnson said. “This makes people strive to be more desirable, because it makes people feel like they are less desirable.”

Self-image issues affect not only young women, but also young men.  However, young men are often unable to seek help for their self-esteem issues, because of the fear of being labeled as either “weak” or “unmanly.” The body positive movement affects young men in the most beneficial way possible, helping them learn to love the body they are in.

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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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