The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

Exploring Teen Masculinity in the Gym

Including an interview with Mark Simpson, author of “Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity.”
Boy lifting weights.

If you’re a teenager and you’ve ever been scrolling along Instagram reels, you may have come across bizarre words and sentences like, “looks-maxing,” “mewing,” or “reps until failure.” This new wave of striving for physical perfection has seemingly hit Gen Z hard, particularly boys participating in gym culture. Physical fitness trends are nothing new but each wave brings something new, sometimes exciting and sometimes concerning. What do young boys have to say, how are they viewing their pursuit of fitness?

For some, it’s a balance between health and attractiveness.

“I attend the gym due to self-betterment, it started due to health reasons, but now it’s a passion, it makes me look better, it makes me feel better,” junior Peter Spyropoulos said.

Other boys share this sentiment but also reveal the ties between masculinity and working out, alongside the egotistical and competitive streak of gym culture.

 “I feel stronger, I feel more manly than I used to before, sometimes the ego can get up there. I remember me and my [friend] Kevin would sometimes battle it out on the bench, I think especially men in particular, we love to compete against each other,” senior Elim “Scooter” Arthur said. 

A large part of this ego-centric aspect of the gym comes from the type of content being pushed into algorithms online, mirroring that of teenage girls and past diet and body trends. Though the goal of getting an ideal body isn’t always a bad thing and can be beneficial when mindful of your limitations.

“We live in a hyper-visual culture, and no one is more hyper-visual than young people. True, it used to be much more of a problem for girls than boys, but that’s progress for you. Whilst there are issues to be addressed, pathologizing today’s boys’ love affair with their bodies is not the way to go,” author of “Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity” Mark Simpson said.

In regards to striving for self-improvement, adults who teach or coach sports have noticed the pressure that boys may put on themselves to physically progress in today’s American culture.

I’ve been teaching for about my 14th year, and that’s always been around. In American society, there’s a lot of pressure and values based on appearance. When it gets unhealthy or obsessive, that’s a problem. We’re trying to do our job in teaching kids not to obsess over things and love their bodies no matter what. At the same time, you want kids to work hard to achieve their goals. It’s a really fine line,” coach Thomas Dellota said. 

It seems that the pursuit of fitness is largely beneficial for today’s teens. As with anything body-related, it can become muddled with self-esteem issues, ego or obsession if taken too far. It all depends on how one goes about self-improvement. Gym culture can be an opportunity for young men and women alike to come together and stay healthy amid an increasingly unhealthy and isolated society.

“The packs of grinning young guys at my gym blocking the mirror may be annoying, but they look like they’re having a great deal of fun. One man’s narcissism is another man’s self-care,” Simpson said.

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