Teenage Boys, Muscles and Masculinity

Teenage Boys, Muscles and Masculinity

Apparently  2016 was the year men became obsessed with their bodies fuelled by a desire for guns of steel and abs to die for and my eldest teenager was no exception.

A keen sportsman, he has always been fit and lean.  His father and I are both slight, so genetics dictate that he will not be predisposed to a large physique, so previous early teenage moanings about how skinny he is have been dismissed by us all with encouragement to accept himself as he is.  However, after years of acceptance, it would seem he has decided to take the matter into his own hands.

Of course we were aware that he was keen to build his strength not only for Rugby but also ahead of the Cricket season to increase his bowling speed and that he had even gone so far as to seek advice on a strength training schedule, but we hadn’t really been paying much attention other than that.

In hindsight the warning signs were there. The frequent mentions of various people being “well ripped”, the request for more lean protein and carbs and less fat in his meals, the absence of constant snacking on biscuits and crisps and the increased consumption of bananas and post exercise smoothies.  Add to this the arrival of pull up bars and dumbbells,  the frequent puffing and grunting noises that tend to drift down the stairwell from his room and the constant marks on the mirrors around the house as he clearly admires the fruits of his labour.

So where is the harm in all that you may ask?  Teenage boys are the masters of doing nothing so surely a young man that is actively doing something about his general fitness is a good thing right?  Well yes within reason but now that he has come out as “muscle freak”  so to speak, it has become all consuming and by that I mean not only of his time to the point where homework is abandoned temporarily in the mission to just do a few more push ups, but also of his conversation, as he regales us with regular updates on how much he can now bench press.

During our holiday to California, any downtime that we had in our sight-seeing schedule was used by him to seek out a local gym in a quest to maintain his physique and ensure his previous hard-work was not wasted. If a gym visit wasn’t possible he improvised and forced to share a room with him on our travels, Teenager No.2 could frequently be heard shouting “Will you please stop doing so many press-ups!” or “Will you stop flexing your biceps!”

Our bodies are our greatest anxiety and everyone’s definition of physical beauty and perfection is completely different.  It is a subject which we tend to associate more with females, but there is growing evidence that body image is a big concern amongst males too.

Research from the YMCA amongst 16-25 year olds into challenges they face and the factors most affecting their ability to be happier about themselves, showed that body image issues were a third of the list of the top concerns for young people, with a third of boys admitting to trying to change their body shape.

Spurred by Teen 1’s muscle mania I decided to do a bit more digging and found that apparently it is not uncommon for teenage boys around his age to feel a need to “bulk up” and do some muscle building.  The UK advertising industry think tank Credos published a report which focused on boys’ body confidence and showed that boys are plagued by the same anxieties as girls.   Whilst looking good comes low on the list of things that make boys happy overall, the report showed that it is their friends that are most likely to make them feel they have to look good and this is particularly true amongst boys in upper secondary school.

In terms of the quest for the “perfect body” two thirds of those who believe there is such a thing, also think they can achieve it if they work at it.  Perhaps not surprisingly the influence of social media is huge, exposing boys not only to relentless peer pressure but also giving them immediate access to tips on how to get in shape and celebrity workout regimes to achieve their goal.  Chris Evans’ preparation for his role as Captain America was arduous and his workout regime for the role extensively documented making it one of the most popular downloads of the summer.

Interestingly, the Credos research also showed a shift in attitudes in what is seen as a desirable body as boys get older, with older boys tending to find a toned and muscular body more attractive. In fact, amongst the older boys there was a definite link in the research between muscles and masculinity.  Surrounded by images of “buff” celebrities preparing for action roles that is probably not surprising.  The report said “Almost half of secondary boys would consider exercising with the specific intention of building muscle and bulking up (48%) and a fifth have already done this (21%) suggesting a staggering 69% aspire to a muscular physique.”

So where does this leave us?  Well, it would seem that Teen 1 is demonstrating the typical behaviour of an older secondary boy in striving for a more muscular physique.  According to the report, however, he is in the minority (29%) in that he is open with us about wanting to “improve” himself as he sees it.

From my perspective, I am happy that he is interested in his fitness primarily for the benefit of his sport, that he has sought advice on a regime from a professional and that he is adopting a more healthy attitude to the food he eats, BUT there are boundaries as with everything.  I have stressed to him the importance of keeping a balanced perspective on his quest to improve his stature and of course like all teenagers he has listened and then groaned at my maternal expressions of concern and said “Yes Mum!!”.  In the meantime, I can only repeat my daily request to him to “Get your pecs out of my kitchen and go and put some clothes on!”



  1. November 23, 2016 / 9:40 am

    Jo I was looking for a post that would highlight the pressures on young boys to look good and this is exactly what I wanted!! I have three girls so I can’t talk from my own experience but I have many friends with teen sons who are doing exactly the same as yours. I can see that it is a fine balance between being glad that they are taking an interest in their diet and exercising and yet not wanting it to become obsessive. Fabulous post – ideal combination of facts and humour. Loved it!! xx

    • Jo
      November 23, 2016 / 12:02 pm

      Thanks Sharon I am glad you found it amusing and interesting. You are right there is so much written about girls and when I started thinking about the subject for a post I couldn’t find a great deal on boys. It is definitely a phase among teen boys and the competitive element is very strong too. My son was elated when his mates complimented him on his “guns” the other day!!! xx

  2. Claire
    November 3, 2016 / 8:04 pm

    Hoo boy, my boys are still tiny but I dread the day I have to deal with things like this, I’d have no idea what to say! Thank you so much for the info, I hope I can keep it in mind if this ever becomes an issue! x #sharingthebloglove
    Claire recently posted…The newborn routine: the best advice for new parentsMy Profile

  3. catie
    November 3, 2016 / 5:51 pm

    OMG I have this all to look forward to with 2 boys I am sure. So good to read something really interesting about boys and their body image and how they are influenced by the comments from friends. Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime

    • Jo
      November 4, 2016 / 1:57 pm

      Yes I am sure you will. It is interesting as he is my eldest watching him as a male paying so much attention to his appearance. My youngest, my daughter is at 13 still a bit laissez-faire, but I am sure when her time comes it will be equally fascinating. X

  4. Kirsty - Winnettes
    November 3, 2016 / 3:57 pm

    I think the fact that he understands he need to put work and effort into achieving his goal is admirable. I think the obsession part is perhaps a little disconcerting but everyone has a hobby, perhaps this is currently his. Teenage years are hard as you discover yourself and your body. I think you should be proud of the fact he feels he can openly talk to you about this. That is a sign of good parenting in my eyes. I hope my daughters can be that open and honest with me when they hit the teenage years.

    • Jo
      November 4, 2016 / 1:53 pm

      Oh thank you Kirsty for your lovely comment. As mums we always wonder whether we have got it right with our kids don’t we? The only person probably brave enough to tell me I haven’t is my own mother. I think you are right, we all want to look good and this is his way of doing it, in fact it is happening alongside an obsession with his hair-maybe this is also linked to a girl thing. Thanks for commenting. #sharingthebloglove

  5. November 3, 2016 / 1:40 pm

    I have a two year old, so we’re not going through this yet, but looking at both his dad and my own physique, he’s unlikely to be a naturally muscly teenager. I do think that the pressure on teenager boys in terms of body image has definitely grown over recent years – I think a large part of it is a natural part of a being a teenager and being aware of your body, but obviously there’s a fine line between awareness, exercise, and obsession. I know I went through a phase in my mid twenties where I was very obsessive about exercise and trying to lose weight, and I think it was when I got down to a size 8 and realised that I still had a fairly big tummy that I finally realised that not everyone can achieve the ‘perfect’ body. Once I had that, I eased off and relaxed a bit, and probably became a lot more fun to be around again! Thanks so much for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

    • Jo
      November 4, 2016 / 9:24 am

      Hi Katy, we all go through that period of striving for the perfect body as you say. Similarly I exercised enthusiastically as a teen and into my early twenties, then post kids I eased off a bit and there is no such thing as perfection, we are all different. Now as I approach my 50’s it is all about flexibility and movement and not sit ups! Much easier on the body. Thanks for commenting. #sharingthebloglove

  6. November 3, 2016 / 11:54 am

    No boy wisdom from me, I’m afraid. However, I found this post extremely interesting and just wanted to say that when I did my personal training course, I got really into the weights – they are really addictive (in a good way, so long as it doesn’t cross into a complete obsession, which I know is your concern). Once you start to feel and see the results, you don’t want to miss a day on arms or legs, because you feel you’ll slip into an abyss and ruin all your good work thus far. So I suppose I just wanted to say that your son is probably feeling like this and the fact he is talking to you about his goals is fantastic. I wouldn’t be overly concerned – unless his personality starts to change. Alison x #coolmumclub

    • Jo
      November 4, 2016 / 9:13 am

      That’s interesting, he says exactly that, there is a schedule he follows, focusing on various parts and maintaining that rotation of focusing on different areas is important. It is no different to any of us really when we start an exercise schedule, once you start seeing the results you just want to keep going and improving further. #coolmumclub

  7. donna
    November 3, 2016 / 8:47 am

    Thank you for this. I’m terrified of teenage parenting!

    Boys do often get overlooked when it comes to any appearance anxiety, but it is becoming more and more common


    • Jo
      November 4, 2016 / 9:04 am

      Don’t be terrified. It is challenging but equally rewarding as you watch them mature and develop into indpendent individuals. Thanks for dropping by. #coolmumclub

  8. November 3, 2016 / 8:02 am

    I wanted to read this because you are ahead of me. My eldest has just become interested, at times, in the way he looks. I hate the pressure. As I get older i am moving away from it and I would love my children not to go through it but I think that is impossible. The obsession with how we look seems to be getting worse and it is a real shame because it can lead us to miss our true talents. As a counsellor I deal with these issues with clients and I find that it is really useful to focus on building self-worth so that image becomes less important. Although like you said it is a balance because there may be a part of it which is about being a teen boy and fitting in to the general interests around. Great post
    Kirsten Toyne recently posted…When Does Motherhood Start? (And Why Is It Important?)My Profile

    • Jo
      November 4, 2016 / 9:08 am

      I agree, unfortunately our appearance and the way we present ourselves can be all consuming and it starts at such a young age. I don’t suppose it will ever stop as it is a part of growing up. It’s interesting what you say about focusing on building on self-worth over image and to look at other traits other than our appearance. Thanks for commenting Kirsten.

  9. November 3, 2016 / 7:11 am

    What a great post – it’s interesting to read about the pressure teenage boys feel as there is always so much emphasis on what girls feel. It’s quite sad there is so much pressure but it sounds like with you as his Mum he’ll keep fit sensibly and with a positive head on his shoulders. xx #coolmumclub

    • Jo
      November 3, 2016 / 7:32 am

      Yes I think the boys do get overlooked in the body image debate. I am glad you found it interesting. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. #coolmumclub

  10. November 3, 2016 / 1:55 am

    Thank you for linking up with #mg. My son has just turned 7, but I also have 2 daughters, one who is 9 and the other is 12. Aspen (my 12 year old) is becoming body conscious and we just talk about making healthy choices. She hasn’t become obsessed yet. One of her male friends however is always talking about wanting to go to the gym, his mother says he can’t go as he is too young. He is quite a lean boy yet says he is fat, it seems to be really worrying him. I will show her this she will be very interested!
    Mackenzie Glanville recently posted…“I am tired of saying I am busy”My Profile

    • Jo
      November 3, 2016 / 7:30 am

      Great to link up, my first time with you. In the UK you have to be 16 to use gym equipment and then only under supervision, in the US it is 18 so my son who is just shy of his 18th was turned away a couple of times when we were in California. He really only started going with a vengeance in the last 6 months to tackle his “skinny” perception of himself. It is sad that your friend’s son thinks he is fat – that is a whole bigger ball game and quite worrying at his age, particularly if you say he is lean. I hope she can reassure him and that it is just a passing phase – as children they do have so many don’t they? #mg

  11. November 2, 2016 / 4:22 pm

    I’m a mum with two daughters. I have no advice and I wouldn’t want my child getting their pecs pit in my kitchen either. X #bloggerclubuk

    • Jo
      November 3, 2016 / 6:59 am

      Thanks for dropping by anyway Laura. #bloggerclubuk

  12. Mess and Merlot
    November 2, 2016 / 3:04 pm

    Oh gosh this makes me sad – I have a little skinny boy who eats like a horse but is just bones and at 8yrs he is already aware of ‘six-packs’ etc. It’s great that you’re taking an interest, obviously any parent would have concerns about this sort of thing getting out of hand but I suppose it’s all part of growing up and wanting to look a certain way. I’m sure with you looking out for him he won’t take anything to extremes. #BloggerClubUK
    Mess and Merlot recently posted…*VLOG* Boots No.7 Advent Calendar – RevealMy Profile

    • Jo
      November 2, 2016 / 3:37 pm

      That brings back memories of my son at his age and lucky them that my and your son are like that to be honest. As you say it is all part of growing up and quite honestly it’s amusing more than anything else. #BloggerClubUK

  13. Busy Irish Mammy
    November 2, 2016 / 12:37 pm

    Haha Something for me to look forward to (I have 4 boys!) It seems teenage boys nowadays are under as much pressure as girls to look a certain way. Great Post #BloggerClubUk

    • Jo
      November 2, 2016 / 3:04 pm

      Oh my goodness you will certainly have your hands full, if you don’t already of course. #BloggerClubUK

  14. November 2, 2016 / 7:49 am

    In my day the lads weren’t into this at all and it’s a good thing that sport and looking after their body is something they now take seriously. I do often wonder if it’s going to extremes though – more about the image and the muscles. But it sounds like you’re on it, and he’s got a balanced view, so great! And being down the gym has to be better than teenagers getting up to mischief eh?#BloggerClubUK
    topfivemum recently posted…Sunshine Blogger AwardMy Profile

    • Jo
      November 2, 2016 / 8:01 am

      As with all things it is about balance. He is driving us slightly crazy and we tease him relentlessly but rather that than doing something illegal. #BloggerClubUK

  15. November 2, 2016 / 7:15 am

    Oh favourite line “Get your pecs out of my kitchen and go and put a shirt on!” – just brilliant! Funnily enough, my son who is 13 has just started taking an interest in his physique and is using the running machine everyday and doing press ups and the plank. There is definitely a pressure on boys too now and I’m carefully watching that he doesn’t become too obsessed. But, as you say, it makes a change from teenage boys wanting to do absolutely nothing! I’ll let you know if I ever have to repeat your brilliant line! #BloggerClubUK

    • Jo
      November 2, 2016 / 7:59 am

      Ha ha funnily enough Helen, me screaming that line at him was the inspiration for the piece. There is only so much of a bare chest at dinner I can take, even if it is fabulous. #BloggerClubUK

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