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Boy Blogger: Unrealistic Media Images Get Into Boys’ Heads, Too

Ed note: We talk a lot at SPARK about the negative outcomes of girls internalizing impossible ideals of beauty, but not much about the dangers of boys internalizing those ideals. This post, while sometimes harsh and shocking, illustrates an issue that, from where we’re standing, isn’t addressed enough: how impossible media images affect the relationships between girls & boys. We think this is a jumping off point for a rich discussion, and we welcome your thoughts in the comments. 

by Zachary Kimmel, age 13, Brooklyn, NY

Scene 1 - Boys Locker Room of a Middle School

Enter three teenage boys

BOY 1 Yo! Have you seen Jessica’s boobs? They’re huge!
BOY 2 Yeah, but Ashley has got the awesome birthday cake! (Cake = very large butt)
BOY 3 What about Maria and Carmen?
BOY 1 Ew no, Maria is not skinny enough, and Carmen is flat as paper. Like seriously, dude, she doesn’t have anything in her shirt!
BOY 2 Yeah bro, and have you seen Rebecca? She has crazy acne!
BOY 1 I know, I know, her skin should be smooth.  It’s disgusting! And Courtney would be so much hotter if she didn’t have braces!
BOY 2 Yes! And same with Emma without glasses!

On May 29th, Ben Ubiñas posted a blog post about how the media, especially young women’s magazines (cough, cough Seventeen) have drastically changed young girls’ perception of what’s beautiful. Since he’s the first male blogger on the site, I wanted to applaud him. Kudos to you, my friend. At the end of his post, Ben touched on how guys actually like real girls; ones that don’t look like the models in the magazines and in commercials. While this may be the case for him, I’ve experienced quite the opposite in my own life.

When guys at my school and at my summer camp talk about girls, they mainly mention their looks and bodies. There are often raging debates (like the one above) in the boys’ locker room at my school, and probably schools all across the country. All of these arguments basically discuss the same three things: a girl’s facial features (glasses, braces, acne); a girl’s curves (usually a girl’s lack of curves); and finally, a girl’s waistline (“Ew no, Maria is not skinny enough”). Now you may have different ideas about why boys discussing a girls’ bodies is so common, but I believe it is for the same reason that Ben brought up: in the media, mostly in magazines and commercials, guys are seeing images of women with perfect complexions, huge breasts and unnaturally thin waists. In fact, guys are so constantly bombarded with these images, that what we see becomes our idea of the “perfect woman.” So, whenever guys see girls who don’t fit that description exactly—which is every single girl they meet—the boys think the girls look “fat,” “flat-chested” or “flawed” in one way or another. But even the models don’t actually look like their pictures in the magazines, thanks mostly to the incredible deception powers of Photoshop.

Since girls are ridiculed if they don’t appear like the models, I think many girls feel that their only way to be accepted is to conform to what they see. This pressure is clear to me in the clothing choices of my female friends. Even if we’re just hanging out in the park or going on a school field trip, my friends always try to dress attractively and “sexy.” Spaghetti strap and strapless dresses, pencil skirts, tight spandex for gym class, and “booty shorts” in the summer. From what I see, magazines make girls think they have to dress alluringly and show off their bodies in order to avoid criticism from the gender those same magazines set up to be their judges: boys.

I’ve also noticed that girls are starting to shave their legs earlier and earlier. My school recently had an end of the year ceremony where the fourth graders attend their first Middle School event. It’s a formal event, so many of the fourth graders were wearing dresses. I noticed that many of them had shaved their legs already. Fourth grade! I told this to my mom, and she wondered why any fourth grader would want to get started with such relentless body “upkeep” so soon. I mean, if you think about it, it’s kind of a simple equation, really: since the boys think that the models are hot, and the models have smooth legs, then these girls think that shaving their legs will make them look hot in the eyes of the boys. These fourth graders are shaving their legs because there is a lot of social pressure for girls to look attractive and sexy all the time—at any age.

And just as girls are beginning to talk about these issues and about the ways that these images are destructive to their sense of their own beauty, we guys have gotta talk about the way that these images create our standards of female beauty. (I’ll write about this in a future post, but media creates unrealistic standards for us guys as well. I remember one time going to the movies and seeing a trailer for Twilight, with Taylor Lautner ripping his shirt off to show his chiseled eight-pack–I don’t think I ever felt lousier about my body than at that moment.)

The images are everywhere – on big billboards, on TV, on our computers, in our phones. They’re in our heads, too, so they’re all over our peer groups. But these images aren’t real beauty, and they may not be what any of us – girls or boys – really think is beautiful.  It distorts our perceptions of the girls in our lives and it alters the girls in our lives perceptions of us, too. It hurts us all.

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15 Responses to “Boy Blogger: Unrealistic Media Images Get Into Boys’ Heads, Too”

  1. karin Lease says:

    I hated being judged by boys when I was a girl. I remember one day in particular when the boys called out number ratings for each one of us as we walked by in a single file line. I wanted to punch them!
    It was definitely traumatizing! Now I am 66, but I will always remember this.

  2. Robyn says:

    Great post! Can’t wait to read the next one.

  3. Anne-Marie says:

    I am having a baby this fall, and if I have a son, I would be proud to read such thoughtful words from him. I was known among many boys as the “girl with the huge boobs” and it was a terrible feeling to hear myself reduced to a body part I wasn’t used to having yet anyway. Girls get in trouble with peers for being too pretty and not pretty enough–there’s no way to win. Unless! boys and girls stick up for each other the way you have stuck up for your female friends, here. It’s so simple, and so uncommon, the way you see your female friends as *friends* and consider their feelings. I don’t believe that boys and girls really want to hurt each other, and reminding yourself that these are friends you care about is a really beautiful way to stop the cycle.

  4. Izzy says:

    This is ridiculously awesome. Thank you so much for taking on the indoctrination of our culture especially within your gender and disagreeing with it for the sake of being moral- that’s a hard thing to do in today’s peer-pressure fueled society. This is so awesome to hear from a boy.

  5. Awesome post. Looking forward to the next one. What if we all stopped believing in the fantasy of perfection? Would we be happier with ourselves, and with each other? It’s interesting that given all the digital retouching models themselves don’t even really look like their own images.

    • Matias says:

      It would be wonderful if we stopped believing, but I don’t think it’s realistic. The media that promotes good looks, etc. aren’t gonna go away.

  6. Thanks for your candor, Zachary! I’m working on a Pt2 piece about teens/tween boys and body image too and would love some honest input from a 13yr old guy…can you add your voice? Here’s part one: http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=18956

    Ping me on Twitter @ShapingYouth to DM contact info, or just write your comments on the blog post itself? Many thanks, and welcome to the SPARK team…I’m sure you’ll ignite plenty of great convos, as I definitely believe this is all interconnected and guys play a huge role in the public health sphere on how media impacts self-worth, as you rightfully say, BOTH genders.

  7. [...] Unrealistic Media Images Get Into Boys’ Heads, Too [...]

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  10. vickiw says:

    Lovely post – its going to take a whole movement amongst boys though to combat the male media called on line porn that describes women and girls as bitches and whores. It doesn’t do that to the men on the sites and shows acts of violence and abuse against girls and women as being fun for guys and no big deal for girls. We’ve just had a fourteen year old boy here in the UK rape a four year old girl he was babysitting because he watched on line porn. Monkey see, monkey do.

  11. [...] few weeks after I wrote that column, I read this striking piece at Spark Summit by 13-year-old Zachary Kimmel. His was a name I instantly recognized. Zach’s [...]

  12. Amanda says:

    Amazing, Zachary. What an intelligent, with-it young man you are. We need more like you, and willing to speak up, too. Because change won’t happen without you. It will never happen without the boys.

  13. Meghan says:

    You know Zach, I’m 22 years old, and if I remember correctly, fourth grade girls were already experimenting with shaving way back in 2001~2001! Really though, it’s great to see that you’re taking after your father; I’m reading “Guyland” right now.

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