Recently a speaker came to my school to talk about body image. (Schools, I highly endorse Teen Truth.) After a very affecting video about body image, we then met in Advisories to discuss the issue.

I have twelve 9th grade students in my Advisory, split between males and females. I asked, “How many of you have been asked to change your body in some way, for your sport?”

Almost every student raised their hand. Swimmers had to lose weight, basketball players had to do leg exercises,  football players had to bulk up, even golfers needed to work on their abs. Both boys and girls in all categories.

I pressed further. “How many athletes do you know with eating disorders?”
A few girls raised their hands. They spoke of not eating, or eating and then automatically working out.

I figured there was more to learn here. “Do you know of anyone using steroids?”
Two boys raised their hands.
Every boy raised their hand; either they knew someone using or were using themselves. They spoke about getting bigger, “bulking up”, trying to get more muscle.

A study was recently done here, in the Twin Cities (an article giving an overview of the study is here). 2,800 middle and high school students were given a 235-item questionnaire on weight and body appearance. The overwhelming majority of both boys and girls answered they changed their eating habits in order to “muscle up”. They also stated they used supplements to help in getting more muscle, including (although a small number) steroids.

My students are 9th graders, the average age in the survey, and this is already impacting them. The question that comes up in my mind is, what happens later in high school? Perhaps many of them will let go of the need for a muscular look. But what of the students that continue working toward that look? What methods will they turn to then?

Considering the negative impacts of working out was not what my Advisory wanted to consider. Students were hesitant. “Is it bad to work out? Is that what they’re trying to tell us?” one boy asked.
“What do you think?” I asked.
He thought about it. “I think they’re saying it’s OK, but there’s a line.”
“And what’s the line?”
He shrugged. “How about when you start hurting yourself?”

I nodded. “That’s a pretty good line.”


2 thoughts on “Being strong

  1. Oh Rob,
    It makes me so sad to hear this. I have a masters in Exercise Physiology and worked as a personal trainer for 18 years. Kids need to just grow into their bodies. I’d never advocate heavy weights for my son until he’s out of high school. You can actually damage the growth plates on the ends of the bones and stunt growth.

    • Michiko

      As a parent, we always pushed for strength training until high school. We saw other parents push for earlier. The desire to be muscular, for boys and girls, is something families and schools will be talking about for some time to come. The alarming thing, for me, is the supplements use. These are 14 year olds involved in substances that are still fairly unregulated.

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