Boys Use Starvation, Steroids in Quest for Perfect Bod

SteroidsCalvin Klein ads have 'em. So do most fitness magazines, not to mention TV shows. They're the standard of male beauty -- a washboard stomach, a chiseled face, a muscular body.

But how far are guys willing to go to reach this peak of perfection? Starvation and steroids? The quest for perfection has some guys confronting the same problems that girls have faced for generations.

Jason, 16, hides a dark secret every time he eats. When he finishes a meal, he goes to the bathroom and throws up. He has an eating disorder called bulimia nervosa -- a disease that most people think of as a girl's illness.

"I can't explain why or how I started, but every time after I eat I go right to the bathroom and force myself to vomit," says Jason. "I'm overweight, and the first thing people see is your appearance."

Jason recently began to have throat infections so bad that he can't talk.

"I'm not dumb. I know what will happen," says Jason, who stands 5'8" and now weighs 160 pounds. "I'm weakening my stomach lining, but I want to be thinner. People focus on what you look like more than anything else. I don't want help. What I want is to lose weight and look good."

"I was always the runt of the pack. I stood about 5'6" and weighed about 112 pounds," says Timothy. "I always whined about my size until a friend offered me a way to bulk up. I started poppin' before I lifted, and it became routine to throw a few back just for a surge of energy."
Choosing a smaller waist over your health might sound crazy, but Jason is not alone. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Center, one in 10 men suffers from bulimia, while one in 20 has anorexia, another eating disorder where people basically starve themselves. (Eating disorders are even more common among girls and women.)

"It's pretty common knowledge that physical appearances have affected women for decades," says Kenneth Ginsburg, assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "While guys have always been concerned with their image, only recently have they become obsessed with achieving ultimate perfection."

Swallowing steroids

Timothy turned to steroids to get broad shoulders, large pecs and a small waistline. He first started using them when he was 17. Now 24, he wishes he could turn back the clock.

"I was always the runt of the pack. I stood about 5'6" and weighed about 112 pounds," says Timothy. "I always whined about my size until a friend offered me a way to bulk up. I started poppin' before I lifted, and it became routine to throw a few back just for a surge of energy."

"By the end of senior year I was huge," he remembers. "I had put on about 35 pounds of solid muscle, but then I started to get those tell-tale signs."

"I remember for my senior prom, I had an incredibly bad breakout of acne. But it wasn't only my face --- my chest, back, arms, everywhere. I looked like a big zit." It got worse.

Something snapped

"I was benching about 250, 270, somewhere around there, when I felt something snap in my chest," says Tim. "I fell to the ground in the most excruciating pain I felt in my life, and had to be rushed to the hospital. I had torn two ligaments in my shoulder and a muscle in my chest. That's when I realized looking good wasn't worth killing myself."

While steroids make you look stronger on the outside, they're weakening your insides, according to information from the National Institutes of Health.

Some guys don't go to these lengths. They just walk around feeling bad.

"Boys need to connect with their mentors -- fathers and other men in their lives -- to get a better understanding of their development," explains Gurian. "These men most likely went through the same problems that young boys today are going through."
"I look at some of my friends and just wish I could drop a few pounds here and there, 'cause I'm too fat," says Elijah, 13. "After all, who ever tells the average fat guy he looks good?"

Is there help out there for boys?

Michael Gurian, Ph.D. and author of A Fine Young Man, says, "Guys are much more alone on this issue than females. It's fairly new to the public. There's no doubt in my mind that in five to 10 years there will be support groups" for guys who have struggled with body image problems. But right now, there aren't many.

"A Boys Clan"

Still, there are plenty of groups that deal with eating disorders and with drug addictions, even if they're not specifically for guys. Plus, guys can turn toward what Gurian calls "a boy's clan."

"Boys need to connect with their mentors -- fathers and other men in their lives -- to get a better understanding of their development," explains Gurian. "These men most likely went through the same problems that young boys today are going through."

If you don't have a father, uncle or older male relative you can turn to, try talking to your school counselor.

And remember, just like girls, guys have to realize that those models don't wake up looking like their cover photo. They have lots of help to look that way. Very few "real" people have the perfect bod, and most of us have questions and concerns about how we look.

"Having questions about your body is nothing to be ashamed of," says Gurian.

Daneil Reyes

For help with eating disorders, call the National Eating Disorder Organization at 918/481-4044. Volunteers can give you basic information and point you in the direction of someone who can help. For drug addictions, call the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at 800/NCA-CALL.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first appeared in SEX, ETC., a national newsletter written by teens for teens, published by the Network for Family Life Education, School of Social Work, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ.  Visit us at www.sxetc.org.
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