Adolescent boys seeking "the norm" may take risks with their appearances

Dec. 21, 2009

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Teen-aged boys are more likely to use tanning booths, take diet pills and have their bodies waxed -- even if they think those activities are unhealthy -- if they are influenced by their peers, according to research by a Baylor University assistant professor of fashion merchandising.

Research also showed that boys ages 12 to 17 focused more on how their skin appears to others -- tone, texture and color -- than on other aspects of their appearance, including body shape, when they were influenced by peers, said Dr. Jay Yoo. His study has been awarded Best Paper in the psychological/social category by the International Textiles and Apparel Association.

The study will be published in fall 2010 in Adolescence, a quarterly international journal. Yoo studied 155 boys, with an average age of 14.3 years, in seven schools in the eastern United States.

"I studied what kids are teased about," Yoo said. "If anyone looks different, people tease you. Probably boys who have acne would become really self-conscious. There are cultural differences, but smooth skin is highly desired, and that may translate into other parts of the body.

"Skin tone also can represent the class of a person," Yoo said. "Skin that is dark brown or bronze is more ideal than pale. Tanning as a fashion trend is a relatively new phenomenon." While tanned skin once was associated with being blue collar, "a tan now is considered a sign of the leisure class," he said. "As a result, the incident of skin cancers has risen dramatically over the past century."

Also, the availability of over-the-counter diet pills and media presentation of those products may make adolescents think taking them is the norm, Yoo said.

"They may view being slim as healthy, while being overweight is viewed as unhealthy. Taking diet pills is merely considered as a means to achieve slimness," he said.

He said the number of teen-age boys receiving spa services, such as hair removal, has nearly doubled since the early 1990s. Nearly half of the almost 14,000 spas in the United States compete for business by offering events and packages for teen-age boys, Yoo said.

"Boys used to use what was available in the bathroom cabinet," Yoo said. "But now it's aromatherapy and salon products, in which brand image as well as specific information are highlighted for adolescent consumers.

"I've heard a mother complaining about her son being teased in the locker room when he used to carry products that were not popular among his age group."

Peer influence is based on what adolescents observe as the norm, but also on advice or criticism from peers, Yoo said.

His findings about using a tanning booth, waxing skin and spa treatments suggest that appearance-conscious youths may share a wide range of information and experiences, he said.

"Until now, little research has been done about adolescents' appearance," Yoo said. But "adolescence is when they develop shopping patterns and appearance, and those who engage in risky behavior continue into adulthood."

Some of Yoo's findings about adolescent boy's perceptions vs. behaviors include these percentages:

BEHAVIOR VIEWED AS UNHEALTHY/ PARTICIPATION

Using diet pills: 75.2 percent / 4 percent

Using tanning booths: 73.8 percent / 9.4 percent

Getting a tattoo: 67.6 percent / 10.1 percent

Body piercing: 66.7 percent / 13.7 percent

Dyeing hair: 63.4 percent / 11.6 percent

Sunbathing: 60.5 percent /27.7 percent

Waxing skin to remove hair: 51.7 percent/ 6 percent

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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