Being You: The Body Image Book for Boys Interview

Charlotte Markey, Ph.D., met with us to discuss Being You: The Body Image Book for Boys, which she authored Daniel Hart & Douglas N. Zacher. What follows are our questions in italics, and Charlotte’s answers on behalf of all three authors.

In the opening chapter of Being You: The Body Image Book for Boys, you remind us of the fact that “concerns about body image” do not only apply to girls. Please tell us more.

            Body image has always been conceptualized as a female issue.  However, research indicates that the majority of boys are dissatisfied with their appearances.  One of their primary concerns is gaining muscles.  However, I’ve found that boys aren’t typically comfortable articulating their body image concerns (or mental health concerns in general).  It’s something of a double whammy – boys are likely to experience body dissatisfaction but then also feel ashamed of this because it is not “masculine” to have this concern.  This makes it especially difficult for boys to get support and treatment when they need it.

Can you please share some of the useful skills you offer to boys to help them deal with teasing and bullying?

It is always difficult to feel picked on or bullied – especially about our appearance, which can feel so very personal. Oftentimes, people make comments about our appearance or tease us, but think they are being affectionate or “just joking.”  It is important for boys to learn that it is okay to tell people that their comments are hurtful and not funny.  It’s also important for young people to learn that they can consult with or seek help from supportive adults, whether that be a parent, aunt, teacher, or coach.  Most adults have some experience with being teased and can offer advice on how to handle particular situations and help directly if the circumstances warrant it.

Social media can affect body image. True or false?

True.  100%.

BUT, it doesn’t necessarily have to.  Social media has been a valuable means of connecting for young people – especially during the pandemic.  It can also be a valuable source of information and creative expression.  Social media has been found to negatively affect body image primarily due to the social comparison that it fuels.  If we all engaged with social media and responded with joy as a result of others’ beauty and lifestyles, then there wouldn’t really be much of a problem.  It’s because we view others’ appearances and lives with envy and concern that we don’t compare favorably that social media has a negative effect.  I offer information in Being You to help boys use social media without the negative consequences.

What was your goal in Chapter Six, entitled “Fuel Your Body,” as you provided information on various nutrients?

I think the most important messages in chapter six are that all foods can be enjoyed and a lot of the information in popular spaces about food are not scientific nor evidence-based.  So many foods are vilified – fat, sugar, carbs.  These oversimplified ideas about food are problematic!    

Why is it important for people to recognize that everyone, regardless of gender, is at risk for eating disorders?

Historically, girls and women have been considered at risk for eating disorders and boys and men have been left out of conversations about eating disorders.  We now know that ¼ – 1/3 of eating disorder patients are boys and men.  Boys and men don’t always present the same symptoms as do girls and women and they often go undiagnosed for much longer.  We need to be on the lookout for concerns about body image, eating, and weight among boys and men and offer the help and support they need.

What is toxic masculinity?

            Toxic masculinity is a term often used to describe a strict following of male gender roles. This can be reflected in men behaving as if they don’t care about relationships with others and seeking to dominate people in their lives (in other words, they are “in charge of” others, especially women).  Being You is all about helping boys to grow up to be comfortable with themselves and respectful of others.  I want boys to be in touch with their own mental and physical health needs and attend to the needs and desires of others, so that they can maintain healthy relationships.

Being You: The Body Image Book for Boys presents with an energy and facts that are wonderfully appropriate for boys and their families. What guided you in your process?

            Working on The Body Image Books (a 3rd is in the works!) is an iterative process.  I read the research literature and interview dozens of relevant individuals.  I write chapters and then focus group chapters I write so that I get feedback from the target audience.  I also have amazing editors and a wonderful design team that take what I’ve written and make it so much better.  I think it helps that I’ve been doing research on body image and eating behaviors for over 25 years and I love talking to teenagers and getting their input.  I also live with two teens of my own, so I think about what I want them to know and I bother them with all sorts of embarrassing questions!

About the authors:

Charlotte Markey, Ph.D., is a world-leading expert in body image research, having studied all things body image, eating behavior, and weight management for her entire adult life (about 25 years!). She is passionate about understanding what makes us feel good about our bodies and helping people to develop a healthy body image. Charlotte loves to share her body image wisdom with others, and is an experienced book author, blogger, and professor at Rutgers University, Camden. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her son, Charlie, daughter, Grace, husband, Dan, and their dog, Lexi. For fun, she likes to run, travel, and read, but often spends her free time nagging her kids to brush their teeth or remove the cups and dishes from their rooms.

Dr. Daniel Hart is a developmental psychologist and distinguished professor of psychology at Rutgers University, Camden, who has studied and worked with adolescents and young adults for more than 30 years. He has written several books, including Becoming Men. Dan is passionate about understanding factors that lead to healthy development, especially when young people experience disadvantaged upbringings. Dan likes to visit his daughter and her partner and his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters as much as possible. He enjoys teasing Charlie and Grace and hiking, reading, and playing basketball in his free time. To learn more about Daniel Hart, you can visit his website www.hart.camden.rutgers.edu.

Douglas Zacher, M.A., has a long-standing interest in issues pertaining to mental health, eating, education, and public policy. He is currently a doctoral student in the department of Public Affairs/Community Development at Rutgers University, Camden, where he is also a part-time lecturer teaching classes including Introduction to Psychology. Doug conducted many of the interviews that appear in this book and made sure that his (somewhat) older collaborators didn’t sound completely out of touch. In his free time he enjoys working on computers, reading and watching comics, hiking and camping, and playing video games. You can connect with Doug on Twitter at @ZacherDouglas.

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