Boys, Superheroes, and Body-Image

I can’t say I was thrilled when my son opened one of his birthday gifts to find a poster inside. He loved it as evidenced by the stellar taping job he performed to make sure it stayed on the wall. The Avengers

 It’s not that I don’t like superheroes. I’m a geek at heart. I watch all the movies and enjoy most of them. I spent years as a child spinning faster, and faster, and faster. Sure that if I spun fast enough there’d be a flash of light and I’d transform into Wonder Woman. I even wore brass napkins rings on my wrists.

One image, in particular, bothered me. Black widow in her leather cat suit and titanium reinforced bra.Black Widow

 I worried about the effect of this unrealistic portrayal of women on my boys’ psyche. Did this image evoke respect for women? A valid concern but, I learned, not what should’ve been my biggest concern.

 After school a few weeks ago, my youngest son asked me to measure him. He stood against the wall, full of height lines and ages of all my children, and I drew a line. He was inches shorter than my other sons at the same age. Not that I mentioned it. I focused instead on how much he’d grown since I last measured him.

 Then, with wide, glossy eyes, he said that now maybe he won’t be the shortest kid in his class. The pain that came with his admission made my heart ache. No one likes to be the smallest in the class. But, it’s especially hard for boys. Especially, when this is the image of a hero:IMG_4637

 It struck me that the damage from this poster may not come from an unrealistic portrayal of women, but from an unrealistic portrayal of men. Every boy wants to be “big and strong,” but men come in all shapes and sizes and some, no matter how hard they try will never have the musculature to burst through their t-shirts. With so much focus placed on size and strength, how do I, as a parent, convey and encourage my boys’ true strengths—that they can be heroic, admirable, and strong even if they aren’t ripped like Thor. And that they are made in the image of God, not in the image of gods

“[T]he pressure to become muscular begins even earlier, as evidenced by the extreme bulking up of male action figures.  These popular toys, including G.I.Joe and Star Wars characters, have increased in muscle size every decade since the 1960s; such subtleties can begin to exert size pressure on boys at a young age.”
―     Susan Morris Shaffer,     Why Boys Don’t Talk–And Why It Matters: A Parent’s Survival Guide to Connecting with Your Teen    

Do these images help build our sons grow into good men, husbands, and fathers or do they have the opposite effect? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

More on this topic:

Super Hero Muscle Costumes: Bad for Boys

Can Adolescent Boys Have Low Self-Image?

4 thoughts on “Boys, Superheroes, and Body-Image

  1. jessie says:

    I think children need superheroes, girls and boys alike. I think it’s important that they have these black and white figures, of being good and being bad, and that the good wins, as long as they keep fighting for it. Despite the Figures and Ideas being over marketed, I do believe that the main thought behind it is a good one. I also believe, that though the images become more and more unrealistic with every decade, that they were unrealistic already 1960. Boys and girls have to learn to separate the fake from the real, but should learn to filter out the good morals. Just like fairy tales. It’s a learning process, unfortunately for our future generations on a very visual level.
    I also believe that it’s very important for parents to teach the children the value that God gives them, as you say. And for parents to portray the “heroes” of the bible. David, small little guy. Moses, scared of talking in front of people. Esther, an orphan who was needed to save her people. How many of us grew up in love with superheroes, and how many of us, still have a problem with the fact that we can shoot a bow and arrow like robin hood? Or can’t shoot webs out of our wrists like spiderman. Or that our muscles aren’t as big as Thor’s? A good parental foundation and a relationship with God will help any child with the decision, what is realistic and what’s fake.


    • Melinda Friesen says:

      Great points, Jessie. Our children don’t exist in a vacuum and they rely on their parents to give them frames by which to view their world. I don’t feel I was harmed by my fascination with Wonder Woman and I hope the same is true with my boys and their heroes. It’s the virtues within those stories that keep the poster on the wall. Spiderman is particularly appealing with it’s smart, unassuming hero.


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