The six pack.
It’s a symbol of fitness, dedication and attractiveness. Men have spent countless hours doing planks, crunches, and sit-ups in pursuit of a flat belly. Because of the six pack’s allure, many young boys are doing the same thing.
I discovered how much boys covet the six pack after doing an activity with the middle school boys that I mentor. I asked the boys to draw a self-portrait. The point of the exercise was to discover how they viewed themselves and generate a discussion about self-image.
Most of the boys drew only their faces. But one young man drew his whole body and his picture was the most revealing. He depicted himself with huge muscles and a chiseled body. Although the young man plays on his school’s football team, he isn’t a bodybuilder.
I asked him why he drew himself that way.
“Because the girls like boys with six packs,” he said.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Because the boys with six packs always have a lot of girls hanging around them,” he said.
He went on to tell me how he does stomach exercises before and after school and during his free moments. He’s even posted pictures of athletes on his bathroom mirror to motivate him to keep working out.
“At school, the boys lift up our shirts and compare our six packs,” he said. “It’s a competition. I’m going to have to work our hard this summer to be ready for high school next year.”
As I listened to him, I thought back on how much I was like him when I was younger.
I was always a small kid and I yearned to get bigger. In college, I started lifting weights. One summer, I bulked up so much that my girlfriend barely noticed me when I saw her during the fall.
It was during this period that I discovered how much guys struggle with body image. In the gym, everyone wanted to be bigger and stronger and they were willing to take extreme measures to look a certain way. I witness several guys taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Although I was wise enough to avoid those drugs, I still pushed myself to lift more weight, work out harder, and get ripped. I didn’t want to be that puny kid anymore.
I think all of those guys in the gym were trying to become something other than the puny kid or overweight kid that lived inside them. Although we may have been older, we were no different from the middle school boys.
People often talk about girls’ body-image, but very little is said about boys. Although it’s expressed differently, boys and girls share the same insecurities about their appearances. They want to be good looking, popular, and desirable.
I’ve recently noticed my 9 year-old son buying into this six-pack body image. He told me that the boys in his class also compare six packs (not that they really have any). The desire to look a certain way is pervasive in our culture. Encouraging boys to be fit, healthy, and exercise is a great thing. The danger comes when boys attach their self-esteem to their body image. It’s also dangerous when they jeopardize their health to achieve the desired results. As parents, we must counter these perceptions by teaching our children that their true value lies in their character.