Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Retired Men, Retired Bodies

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Retired Men, Retired Bodies

Article excerpt

Although a growing body of literature has emerged around young men's body image, little literature exists on older men's body image. This paper focuses on in-depth, qualitative data obtained during a focus group from six older, retired men (58 to 85 years) involved in formal physical activity sessions, living in the Adelaide metropolitan area. This research draws attention to ways in which older, retired men perceive their bodies and whether this bears on their masculine identity and quality of life. This paper also identifies important health promotion strategies for health practitioners working with older men.

Key Words: ageing men, bodies, masculinity, physical activity


In recent years, researchers have looked with more interest on men's body image, especially focusing on men and eating disorders (Drewnowski, Kurth, & Krahn, 1995; Drewnowski & Yee, 1987; Drummond, 1999, 2002; McCreary & Sasse, 2000; Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000). However, most of this research has centered on young men, specifically adolescent or young adult men. This is understandable because adolescence and young adulthood is a developmental period in which a good deal of negotiation takes place with respect to physiological and psychological changes in the body.

Consequently, the media have focused on the sensational aspects of men's body image issues (Drummond, 2002). While young men's body image issues have garnered most of the attention, older men as a group have been largely ignored (Loland, 1999). Arguably, older men with body image concerns are less understood.

As men age, there are a number of issues they must confront to maintain their masculine identity. It is important to recognize that this masculine identity develops largely through external factors. With respect to the body, Western culture places a good deal of emphasis on how a man's body should look in terms of masculine identification. That is, Western culture has created a cultural exemplar of the archetypal male body (Drummond, 2002). Included in this archetypal male body are muscularity, athleticism, and youthfulness. Further, the ideal male body has a classic Adonis-like shape, is devoid of fat, is hairless, and is wrinlde free (Pope et al., 2000). Significantly, those bodies that do not exhibit such physical attributes are often ranked lower on a continuum of masculinities. As men age, it becomes increasingly difficult for most to maintain a high level of muscularity (Shephard, 1997). Similarly, the aging process inhibits some forms of athleticism and undoubtedly accentuates wrinkling of skin (Shephard, 1997). Keeping in mind the archetypal male figure, if aging men rely on their body image to buttress their masculine identity, many may develop feelings of inadequacy.

It is important to recognize issues relating to men, athleticism, and sport within the context of constructions of masculinity. Sport has been identified as a masculinized domain (Messner, 1992), and as such sport provides a site in which men can construct their masculine identity (Drummond, 1996). Further, boys quickly learn the masculinized values placed on sport both from a participatory and a spectator perspective (Drummond, 1996). That is, they develop an understanding that to be popular among peers they must either be good at sport, particularly the traditional masculinized sports such as those that champion power, aggression, and violence, or they must be seen to support teams associated with such sports. From an early age then, boys develop a keen sense that masculinized sports are activities that provide entry into masculinized relationships with friends and significant male figures. Messner (1992) observed that boys see their fathers, uncles, or older brothers watching masculinized sports with interest. Therefore, these boys quickly surmise that to be involved in sports or simply to watch sports is a masculinized act. …

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