What does being a ‘boy’ mean anymore…


At The Sound, we look at what is going on around the world, and more specifically with the people in it. We are consistently looking through generations, genders, family types and people to really uncover what is going on. 

The old adage of ‘boys will be boys’ has long been used to, at best, excuse poor behaviour, and at worst, celebrate it. There is permissibility in boys being risky and engaging in ‘dumb’ behavior, and it’s been a tool to allow some adolescent men to make ‘mistakes’ and have their transgressions ignored. The vision of what boys and young men are capable of, and should aspire to be, hasn’t expanded.

Some of you reading this have once been a boy. Others may be raising, or will raise a boy. It’s not a stretch to think all of us would have been better off had boys had a better defined north star as we journeyed to manhood. And it’s having an effect: while the causes are likely many and complex, men aged 15 – 23 are more prone to bullying, to commit assault, suicide and other acts of violence and abuse than any other demographic. We can’t afford to chalk it up to ‘nature’ like many have tried before. 

The Sound recently conducted a study diving into beauty from all angles, including how men and women feel about internal and external beauty, and how they define it for themselves. It’s not a surprise that as we age, we feel more secure with ourselves, while our youngest are struggling with questions around their identity and internal beauty. I too, wondered, ‘are boys even supposed to feel beautiful on the inside?’. What is surprising is 42% of boys (aged 15-23)  don’t feel beautiful on the inside, nearly 10% higher than women the same age (34%). In the research, we asked them to define what personality traits were associated with beauty on the inside means to them, for them. 

They defined beauty characteristics on the inside as ‘a leader’, ‘in charge’, ‘intelligent’, ‘outgoing’, and ‘loud’. Interestingly, these are almost exactly what we would select for masculine tropes; but it was what they selected for girls of the same age that caught my eye. 

They too think women should be ‘intelligent’ and ‘knowledgeable’*, but also ‘happy’, ‘friendly’, and ‘reliable’. My question is: why do boys not think they too should be happy, reliable and friendly**? And how are the beauty standards they have set for themselves affecting them?


“Men and boys have historically been given more encouragement, more opportunities, and more power, and it’s more about the things that we have not taught and given to boys have become glaringly obvious”

Ron Tite


The past four decades have been spent attempting to redraw, and expand the limits on what women and girls’ lives can look like. Their self-esteem has benefitted, yet, from our boys’ perspectives, we have not expanded the cultural vision of what their lives can look like, and moreso, what it means to be a full human. 

The world affords more opportunities to men, yet has a more narrow idea of what personality traits are acceptable, evidenced by the table below:


Personality Traits Men Associate with Internal Beauty for Men Ages 15-23 Personality Traits Women Associate with Internal Beauty for Women Ages 15-23
A leader, role model, in charge 79% Caring, compassionate, generous 88%
Intelligent, knowledgeable, wise 69% Sincere, trusting, altruistic 86%
Funny, entertaining, happy 67% Intelligent, knowledgeable, wise 83%
Loud, outgoing, extroverted 64% Reliable, approachable, friendly 81%
Creative, original, innovative 80%
Independent, adventurous, free-spirit 80%
Funny, entertaining, happy 79%
Ambitious, focused, powerful 77%


Men wrote the rules of the social context we live in today, and we are holding our boys hostage to a vestige of masculinity that is on it’s last breath. It’s important to understand that if we don’t talk to boys, and build a healthy, compassionate, caring vision of masculinity, someone is going to build a version for them, like Joanna Schroeder has highlighted in her NYT piece. Clearly this isn’t working, because we see boys and young men chasing ideals and identities they feel they should adhere to, but aren’t feeling good about. 

Brands like Axe, Gillette, and Dos Equis, have responded to this changing ideal of manhood, and shifted away from the typical hyper-masculine communications from ‘bitches, boobs, and booze’, to something that encompasses the range of humanity in men that we see in the world. These companies are helping boys and men live their lives with confidence and clarity, rather than insecurity and immaturity. They are connecting their stories with what men really see in themselves, and an expanded idea of what internal beauty can be for men, and for boys to aspire to. 

We marketers have a hand in creating the cultural context around us, and showing that what it means to be a man is far deeper and infinite than what we have been told.


* 73%, 82%, and 43% of Boys 15-23, felt Intelligence, Caring, and leader were, respectively, personality traits associated with internal beauty for women

** Only 52% of Boys 15-23, felt caring, compassionate, and generous are personality traits associated with internal beauty for Men


Written By:
Issa Braithwaite

Issa has over three years of consumer insights and product management experience. He has spent years understanding consumer behavior, as well as, the relationship between individuals and brands. For him, it's about exploring the infinite space in between the unseen that excites him. Understanding behavior, attitudes, and motivations that draw people to products and brands is why he loves The Sound.  
Issa has degrees in Finance and Behavioral Economics from Ohio University, as well as, an MBA from the University of British Columbia. As an avid sailor, he can not wait for restrictions to be lifted so he can back on the water

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