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?