Why is my 13-year-old son coming under pressure to get buff? | Body image

It’s normal to have concerns about your children playing on your mind. Over time, many dissipate or are superseded, but occasionally they crystallise into a deep-seated fear, and that’s what happened to me on reading your article on young men “looksmaxxing” (From bone smashing to chin extensions: how ‘looksmaxxing’ is reshaping young men’s faces, 15 February).

For some time, my 13-year-old son had been badgering me to buy him weights and to join the gym. I said that children his age were too young to lift weights as their bodies were still growing. Recently, a friend told me she had been able to add her 12-year-old son to her membership. I’ve been wanting to get back into the gym and, thinking it would get him off his phone, I signed up both of us.

The instructor was clear that my son could not use the free weights or resistance equipment, but he could use the cardio and basic strength equipment. After a couple of sessions pottering around together, I left him to do a yoga class. When we met he was “pumped”. Sweating hard, dancing around, delighted with how hard he’d worked out. He pulled up his sleeve and showed me his “muscle”. In the car he planned how often we’d go and what he’d do. I told myself this was a kid being excited about a new hobby, but when he started talking about “legs days” and “arms days”, and “getting buff”, I realised he was getting information from somewhere – maybe school, maybe the internet.

I suggested he needed to take this slowly, and that he’s perfect as he is. And this was when I got really worried. He started crying. Raging. “You don’t understand what it’s like to be me. I’ve always felt fat (he isn’t). I get teased for my jaw line. I thought you’d be proud of me. Now I feel bad about myself.”

Working with the school and the gym, and with sensitive handling, I believe we can combat this budding perversion of my child’s mind. But I recognise many of his behaviours in those Esther Ghey has generously shared of her daughter, Brianna, and I’m sure other parents do also. And we share her fear of the damage that’s being done to a generation of children whose minds are being shaped by pernicious and wholly unaccountable forces, and now it seems their bodies are too.
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Reading this article is so concerning. The pressure to conform to some created ideal of beauty harks back to some of the great science-fiction stories, such as those by Iain M Banks in his Culture novels, and also going back to Twilight Zone episodes such as Eye of the Beholder, in which a temporarily blind woman is waiting for her bandages to be removed. The twist is that she is beautiful, but lives in a world of hideous people with faces like pigs, so she is perceived as ugly.

I work alongside NHS surgeons as a biological scientist, and have watched many operations. The long-term damage and scarring from certain cosmetic procedures can be severe, especially with Botox, which works by paralysing facial muscles. I believe poor mental health is strongly connected to this phenomenon. A future world where people beggar themselves in order to look like dolls. Science fiction? Or not.
Julie Taylor