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Modern Parenthood

Justin Bieber disses Prince William's thinning hair: Let’s talk male body image

Justin Bieber's youthful diss of Prince William's thinning hair is a window on increasing male body image anxiety. A British study suggests men are fast catching up to women in self-image concerns, finding that 38 percent of men surveyed said they would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.

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At the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, Phillippa Diedrichs studied 394 British men, commissioned by Central YMCA and the Succeed Foundation, and found that men are indeed suffering from the influence of perfect male image ads.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Male worries included poorly developed or fat chests, beer bellies, and baldness. Four of five men (80.7 percent) refer to perceived flaws and imperfections.

However, the saddest telltale for me was that 38 percent of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.

“These findings tell us that men are concerned about body image, just like women. We knew that ‘body talk’ affected women and young people and now we know that it affects men too,” said Dr. Diedrichs.

• 80.7 percent talked about their own or others' appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair, or slim frame.

• 30 percent have heard someone refer to their "beer belly," 19 percent have been described as "chubby," and 19 percent have overheard demeaning talk about their chests.

• 23 percent said concerns about their appearance had deterred them from going to the gym.

• 63 percent thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough.

• 29 percent thought about their appearance at least five times a day.

• 18 percent were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16 percent on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down.

That’s in the UK and not here in Adland, USA where Mr. Bieber formed his opinion. I suspect our issues are not only worse but more widely spread among younger men and boys.

So as we talk to our boys about fitness, we need to be more aware of the social pressures added to their load. It isn’t something to be dismissed as silly or unimportant. Sadly, this is one area where women have pioneered over the decades. 

When it comes to life coaching our sons, we need to look to their self-image as much as their time around the track.

I was glad to see that Prince William, whose mother Princess Diana suffered so mightily as the result of her own negative body image, has not fallen prey to that kind of issue. He chose to be a dignified monarch and not allow appearance to be his focus. That’s why they call it majesty.

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