The Perfect Swimsuit-ready Body … At What Price?

iStock / Getty Images Plus/ stefanamer/
iStock / Getty Images Plus/ stefanamer/

Daily media messages insist on the perfect body for both women and men. Add swimsuit season to the mix and here comes a surge in anxiety. What price are your clients willing to pay for the perfect swimsuit-ready body? Will they shell out the cost for expensive supplements? Go to extremes to get that chiseled look?

A concerning survey reported in the journal Pediatrics of about 3,000 adolescents in middle and high school, average age 14, found that 38 percent of these adolescents used protein supplements and nearly 6 percent said they had experimented with steroids. These body-enhancing practices were more common in boys than girls.

To get a real-world perspective on these body image issues, I interviewed an expert who has boots on the ground everyday, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified eating disorder dietitian Karen Beerbower. Karen serves on the board of directors for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals.

Karen says that younger boys and men are now as concerned as girls and women about swimsuit season and body image. Guys think twice before ripping off their T-shirts at the beach. One reason is that clothing ads have changed significantly. In the 1950s only 3 percent of men were undressed in ads. Fast-forward to the 1990s, and that percentage jumped to 35 percent and continues to climb today. Men connect masculinity with a ripped body, count ripples on their chest and do more body checking than ever before.

There is a fine line between a healthy body image and obsession. As a woman teeters on the edge of body image issues, she looks at how she can be smaller, take up less space in the chair and have her thighs not touch. Many college-age women try the “nap diet,” where they sleep off their hunger instead of eating so they can drink or eat later in the day. Guys wants the ‘V’ look — broad shoulders and chest, smaller waist —and to gain muscle mass. Obsession and compulsivity with male body image can lead to more and more time in the gym, along with using enhancers and supplements (illegal or not).

Karen suggests that concerned parents ask themselves: “What is behind my child’s drive to look good?” Is there balance in day-to-day life? Or does the child have a one-sided focus on his/her body at the expense of the rest of life? This drive, when out of balance, is strong enough to cancel social engagements for trips to the gym. Does your child feel like his/her workout is never enough? If parents recognize that their child is falling out of balance and desire more information, here are resources to help them get started:

National Eating Disorders Association
The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals
Eating Disorder Current Concepts
Nutritional Guidance Inc.
Blue Horizon Eating Disorder Services

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Susan Mitchell
Digital nutrition expert Susan Mitchell, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND, is host and producer of the podcasts Breaking Down Nutrition and Beyond Bariatric Surgery. Today’s Dietitian RD Lounge named Breaking Down Nutrition one of the best RD-run podcasts. Connect with her on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram.