Buffed Boy Body Image and Teen Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor

Teen pals a little testier than usual? Ever heard of ‘roid rage?’

Awhile back I wrote about body image issues offering “equal opportunity toxicity” as young boys have increased body dysmorphia, emulating buffed boy, ripped six-pack icons of video games and ‘hunks’ modeled and merchandised ad nauseum.

Not getting alarmist, as we’re still in single digit growth percentages, but it’s worth the focus on BOYS who have been gaining on girls in eating disorders and tanked self-esteem as media and marketing serve up a quest for the almighty ‘hotness’ and adolescents end up with The Adonis Complex reverb.

This Sunday on our own Shaping Youth Advisory Board member Rona Renner’s radio show, you can hear the doctors tackle “adolescent body image” (podcasts archived too) as Rona and her guests help teens develop a healthier image of themselves beyond the media machine.

Gee, let’s start with Lightyear XSTREAM Energy. (and no, not the Buzz Lightyear kind) This energy drink contains Yohimbe, claiming to be an aphrodisiac and “natural sexual enhancer used for impotent males.” Or perhaps this new summer ’08 flavor of citrus “Crunk” which you may recall originated in ’04 with rapper/producer Lil John and the late Sidney Frank, of Jagermeister and Grey Goose libation fame.

Now, um, tell me, doctors…”Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?”

The media/marketing blitz selling kids ways to last longer, get stronger, “be hot with a shot” is complicit in the escalation of body image problems wreaking havoc on this appearance-obsessed generation of kids.

Girls may receive more press about disordered eating and such, but ‘Bigorexia’ (photo credit at left from Ditch Diets Live Light by blogger Cari Corbet-Owen) is on the rise. (See Cari’s primer called ‘Who Gets the Adonis Complex?” for a helpful snapshot of milestones in media moments for male context)

These media corollaries are backed up by researchers like Alison Field, Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics and lead researcher on the GUTS study who was recently doing grand rounds a few weeks ago at UCSF.

GUTS stands for “Growing Up Today” and I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall at medical rounds as her adolescent research work is renowned. In fact, her study is one of the only large-scale “prospective analyses on the development of weight concerns and unhealthy weight control behaviors in males.”

Shaping Youth is one of the few nonprofits focusing on how these body image ideals are landing on boys as well as girls, so Alison Field’s research has always been of interest to me for our own filmwork, “Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth.”

A synopsis of her outcomes with males?

“Although fewer males than females are preoccupied with a desire to be thinner, a non-trivial number of males are preoccupied with a desire to have more or better defined muscles. The latter concern is rarely assessed in studies that include males.”

And it’s more common than once thought, with a direct correlation of risk factors between boys unhealthy means used to gain weight, (e.g. steroids) and girls unhealthy means lose weight, (e.g. bulimia, diet pills, etc.) tied to “wanting to look like same-sex figures in the media.”

Ahem. Causal link, anyone? When I have 5th graders in our counter-marketing sessions worried about dieting and muscle mass, (boys AND girls) I’d say Houston, we have a problem.

How would Shaping Youth “counter-market” the buffed boy/steroid bit? (and intake of supplements of all kinds promising the lean, mean teen machine?)

Point to articles like this from Parenting Teens.com for starters:

“Teens abusing steroids may suffer reduced sperm count, shrinking testicles, impotence and difficulty urinating. All of this intimately associated with the equipment most men value very highly.

Teens on steroids also risk losing their hair and inappropriate breast development. One has to wonder how many takers there would be for steroids if these side effects were listed alongside the much-vaunted ‘desirable’ effects. This is why education on the (in excess of 70) side effects of steroids is almost a sure way to deal with steroid abuse among teens. The fact is these young people are simply unaware of this.

Imagine a pack of steroids bearing this equation: “Enormous increases in brute strength” soon followed by the shrinking of testicles, impotence, lowered sperm count and hair loss. With the writing on the wall few teens can dispute the ill effects of steroid abuse. It is still true that the underlying problem of low self esteem and poor body image must be addressed. Rest assured that if it is allowed to lie there unattended it will not go away. Instead it will find another destructive outlet.”

I’d ABSOLUTELY use that as counter-marketing fodder. You betcha…

Then I’d get more doctors to back up the data with their own anecdotal knowledge and case studies on teens wanting to bulk up and the reverb therein.

Alison Field? Shaping Youth Body Image Expert Dr. Robyn?

What do you have to say on this?

I’ll pose these questions now for the two doctors on Rona’s show this Sunday… Or maybe I’ll call in.

(YOU certainly can too: 1-877-372-KIDS)

UCSF’s Dr. Joan Valente, (Asst. Profw/joint appointment in the dept. of Pediatrics/Psychiatry) and Dr. Seth Ammerman, medical director of the Mobile Adolescent Health Services “Teen Van” join Rona Renner for Childhood Matters. (98.1 KISS-FM, 9-10am PST June 29)

The doctors will be talking about media and peer pressure to be thin or look sexy, as well as some of the ‘acting out’ that transpires with body insecurities in the form of cutting, eating disorders, depression or anxiety. Hey, maybe Dr. Robyn would call-in to Rona’s radio show and write us a guest editorial recap? Hmn…

I’ve written a considerable amount on girls’ body image but I’m always quick to add, “What about the boys?” with an ongoing plea to amp up our youth advisory team with male perspectives on Packaging Boyhood. Also, I wanted to add that Shawn Hubler’s article in the L.A. Times about the pornification of pop culture and blasé teen reaction is a fascinating must-read.

I’d love to see the doctors address THAT in the body image radio show as it pertains to youth culture, too…

Next year, Shaping Youth advisory board gurus Dr. Sharon Lamb & Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown’s new book on Packaging Boyhood will be coming out and should also be profoundly enlightening…I’ll be sure to ping them to find out more on THEIR research-to-date soon…Meanwhile, kids, parents, teachers:

Give us YOUR take on Growing Up Today…Or call in your teen body image questions to Rona’s radio show at 1-877-372-KIDS this Sunday!

Related Resources/Body Image/Boys

NIDA for Teens (Fact Sheets)

Adolescents Bulk Up Their Bodies, USA Today

The X/Y Factor by Rachel Abramowitz, L.A.Times

Tween Boys/Putting on the Spritz by Lori Aratani, L.A. Times

Shaping Youth Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

Bigorexia & Muscle Building: Ditch Diets & Live Light.com

The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat, & Prevent Body Obession in Men & Boys (book)

I’m, Like, SO Fat!: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating & Exercise (book)

Looking Good: Male Body Image in North America (book)

About-Face: Body Image Books/Tips on Body Acceptance

NIDA: Anabolic Steroid Use in Teens, 2005

Kids Health: Steroids/Human Growth Hormone

Steroid Use by Teens Soaring (CBS News, 2003)

Packaging Boyhood.com (upcoming book/survey here!)

Here’s Shaping Youth’s Body Image Expert Dr. Robyn on athletic performance and warning signs written for parents of teens…

Are your children taking steroids…or Viagra?

Body Image and Athletic Performance

by Shaping Youth Correspondent Dr. Robyn Silverman

Steroid Use in Preteens and Teens

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few of them walking in the halls of your children’s schools.Or perhaps you’ve noticed something strange among your own teens.Are their chiseled bodies really of this world? With their six pack abs, bulging biceps and firm quads, these teens make others wonder if they’re really working hard enough at the gym.

But they have a secret that they’re hiding from their parents.Steroids.

Given that many of our sports heroes, including baseball players, track stars , and cyclists, have been accused of (or have admitted to) using steroids to bulk up, slim down, and get that godly look and strength, is it really surprising that teens are interested in doing the same things?Our heroes help us all to see what’s possible and the tools they use to seize the day.It’s only natural for kids to have a desire to follow in their footsteps.

In addition, the cultural pressures to be “the best” can drive teens towards steroid use.How can they get better?Bigger? Faster? Steroids can look like an easy answer.

What are steroids?

Steroids are very helpful in curing a lot of conditions. Anabolic steroids, in particular, help build muscle and bone mass. That’s where the danger starts.

  • Over 5% of boys and around 2.7% of girls in high school admit to taking some form of steroids without a prescription, according to the CDC in 2007.
  • Long term effects of unprescribed intake of anabolic steroids include urinary problems, abrupt and extreme mood swings, trembling, damage to the heart and blood vessels due to blood pressure and even death.
  • In men, steroids can cause symptoms such as breast development, testicular shrinkage and erectile dysfunction.Women taking steroids can experience facial hair growth, clitoris enlargement, menstrual cycle changes and even the development of many masculine characteristics. Most of these symptoms are due to hormonal imbalances caused by the steroid intake.

Some of the danger signs:

  • Mood swings (can be very extreme
  • Urinary problems
  • Severe acne
  • Abrupt increase in muscle mass
  • Yellowish skin
  • Needle marks in muscle groups
  • Syringes in child’s belongings
  • Sudden deepening of voice (females)
  • Facial hair growth (females)

There are 10 major classes of anabolic steroids . Each class is dependent upon the route of administration and the type of carrier solvent used to introduce the steroid into the body.

The ten classes are:
1. Oral
2. Injectable oil-based
3. Injectable water-based
4. Patch or gel
5. Aerosol, propellant based preparation
6. Sublingual
7. Homemade transdermal preparation
8. Androgen-estrogen combination
9. Counterfeit anabolic steroid
10 Over the counter (OTC)


Girls have recently been known to use steroids as a way to get an edge on the playing field, slim down and tone up.Some girls, as young as 9 years old, have found that steroids can help them to look more like the Hollywood stars and models they admire.

“There’s been a substantial increase for girls during the 1990s, and it’s at an all-time high right now,” said Charles Yesalis, professor of health and human development at PennsylvaniaStateUniversity.

  • Overall, up to about 5 percent of high school girls and 7 percent of middle-school girls admit trying anabolic steroids at least once, with use of rising steadily since 1991, various government and university studies have shown.
  • “With young women, you see them using it more as a weight control and body fat reduction” method, said Jeff Hoerger, Rutgers University, New Jersey counseling program.
  • These girls are more likely to have eating disorders and use other risky methods to get thin.


As the men on Gladiators, Wrestlemania, and Ultimate Fighter get bigger, boys may also have a desire to bulk up.But you might be surprised to know that it’s not only about getting stronger.It’s also about body image–and looking more attractive–even in elementary and middle school!

Boys as young as 10, and high school students who do not play team sports, are also bulking up with steroids because they want to look good.

Some high schools are working to combat steroid use by banning the substance and offering a consequence: If a student is caught using performance-enhancing drugs, they can be banned from competing for a whole year.The problem is, no drug testing is required. Parents still need to keep their eyes open.

How should parents address the issue?

Direct Approach: Especially if the person you suspect is your son/daughter, this can be the most effective approach. You can always take the time to just sit down and talk about steroids.Many teens either simply don’t know about the real risks of steroids or are uncertain about their effects. Talk about all the general risks and the long term effects and how it simply isn’t worth it.Let them know that ultimately, they’ll just end up jeopardizing their own goals and maybe their entire lives.

If your child is thinking about taking steroids, your heart-to-heart talk could bring up facts and illuminate issues that s/he didn’t know about before.

Use the Media: When steroid use is brought up in the media, don’t stay silent!Let your children and teens know how you feel about steroid use, what it means for the sport, the athletes, personal health and the integrity of the sport.When children and teens are clear about how you feel about steroids and other illegal substances, they’re more likely to refrain from using.

Child Monitoring

  • Look for any obvious weight gains in your children, particularly, gains in muscle mass over a short period of time.
  • Is there any sign of depression? Hormonal imbalance can cause mood swings and erratic behavior.
  • Is there any apparent hair loss with your child? Premature balding and breast development in boys and facial hair development in females are possible side effects of steroid use.

Intervention: Let the experts work

If you’re sure that the problem exists, let your children know that you only want what’s best for them— and then, introduce an expert. Trained doctors are the best people to address the problem.

Steroids Hotline: 1-800-STEROIDS

This hotline provides information on drugs, how to know if someone you know is using steroids and where to get help.

Anything else but steroids?

In addition, believe it or not, Viagra is now becoming another drug used by athletes. It’s being used to help with athletic performance, increase blood flow, and increase the effectiveness of other drugs. Watch your medicine cabinets.

Dr. Robyn Silverman (full bio here) is an ongoing Shaping Youth contributor and leading Child and Adolescent Development Specialist with a focus on character education and body/self esteem development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.



  1. Another great article. As a father of 2 boys (12 and 5), and a Boy Scout Leader, I am aware of the pressures boys face in regards to ‘bulking up’.

    The most important preventive measures, as you stated, is to monitor your child. And that includes knowing who they hang out with.

    In short, if you don’t know who your kids know, or what they’re doing, steroids are only the tip of potential problems.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Charlie…We’d love to hear more about the boys issues here, as the girls tween/teen advisors are a bit more forthcoming…any chance your son or his pals would be open to an e-interview on same? Sort of a ‘what it’s like growing up as a boy today’ tween feature? (similar to our New Moon Editorial board query with a handful of young teens here: https://shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1774

    ??????????????? (hey, worth a query, hmn?!) 😉

    We’re trying to build a ‘service credit’ driven crew of rotating volunteers to be ears/eyes for S.Y. in the youth arena so that we can tap into ‘what it’s like’ beyond our own regional/socioeconomic myopia and exposure… (helps the ol’ college resume too) Spread the word?!

  3. It is somewhat distressing to see kids so young obsessed about their bodies to the point of risking their health like this. Refreshing to see a story about how boys are at risk as well as women. Thanks for a great read.

  4. Personally, I think boys are the ‘most overlooked’ entities in the pop culture media zeitgeist of how all this body image stuff is landing on kids…which is why Shaping Youth is trying to unearth some teen boy participants to share THEIR views on same.

    I know Dr. Jenn has written a whole book about this on the ‘peer pressure push’ into early sexuality (700+ boys interviewed!) which I blogged a bit about here: https://shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1774

    But I definitely have my sights on a ‘townhall’ style video/podcast about same…

    Could be veeeeeeeeeeeeery enlightening. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Always appreciated. –AJ

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  6. It is so important for these teen kids, and scene kids, to know that exercise is important but to not destroy their bodies beyond repair just to increase their self image.

  7. I have been a counsellor and educator for the last 30 years in the treatment and prevention of eating disorders and body image issues. My program Just for Boys addresses body image,self-esteem, and resilience and attempts to prevent the issues facing boys today. It is now available as an ebook. Please visit my website http://www.salal.com. It would be great if you could feature my program on your website. Please email me for more information or with any questions you might have.

    Sandra Friedman, MA

  8. Sandra, interesting subject that I’d definitely like to hear more about, and your expertise is definitely well suited. I’m booked pretty solid this April but if you have any particular programs you’d like to highlight that are solutions-based I’d love to hear more too…My email is amy at shapingyouth dot org so feel free to send interview angles you’d like to explore, boys’ body image tips, conversation starters and other preventive outreach—thanks for the heads up.

  9. Good article but I think that your language can’t be understood by noobs… Maybe make notes more understandable?

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