Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"Making Muscle Junkies": Investigating Traditional Masculine Ideology, Body Image Discrepancy, and the Pursuit of Muscularity in Adolescent Males

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"Making Muscle Junkies": Investigating Traditional Masculine Ideology, Body Image Discrepancy, and the Pursuit of Muscularity in Adolescent Males

Article excerpt

In this paper, we investigated the relationship between traditional masculine ideology, body image discrepancy, self-esteem, and the pursuit of muscularity in a sample of school going boys. Constructs were measured using the Traditional Masculine Ideology Scale, Lynch and Zellner's Body Figure Drawings (1999), Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Inventory, and the Drive for Muscularity Scale. Questionnaires were administered to 508 boys, from Grades 10, 11, and 12, at a public single-sex high school in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Analysis revealed significant positive correlations between traditional masculine ideology, the pursuit for muscularity, and body image discrepancy. Indian school boys experienced body image discrepancy more severely than their Black and White counterparts in the sample. Further, there was a significant use of muscle supplements and steroids by school going boys.

Keywords: body image discrepancy; hegemonic masculinity; pursuit of muscularity; school going boys; steroids


Raewyn Connell (1987, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001a, 2001b, 2002) asserts that hegemonic masculinities transform male bodies into symbolic tools. In this respect becoming, and remaining, a "real man" is dependent on the contextualized subjective and normative meanings of masculinity(ies); meanings which are cultivated within the intersecting perceptual and evaluatory judgments of diverse morphologies which make the pursuit of localized dominant masculinities desirable amongst men and boys in a particular milieu. Cognizant that muscularity is a "defining feature" (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000, p. 50) of traditional hegemonic masculinities; the present study builds on findings which have shown a significant association between masculine body image, psychological well-being, and conformity to traditional masculine ideology.

Unlike previous research, however, this study examines what perceptions of traditional masculinity hold for the body image discrepancy, self-esteem, and behavioural repertoires, in South African school boys. Research has demonstrated that young adult males have the highest incidence of body dissatisfaction and desire for greater muscle mass (Lynch & Zellner, 1999; Tager, Good, & Bauer-Morrison, 2006) compared to other cohorts. Moreover boys who participate in power sports (1) have presented with higher rates of steroid use, dysmorphic concern, and depression (Cafri, van der Berg, & Thompson, 2006). Such findings carry implications for the role of school boy rugby in South Africa; particularly where the traditional masculinity of corporeal dominance endorses the pursuit of a muscular mesomorphology and awards status within the school social hierarchies (Robertson, 2003; Swain, 2000, 2003; Tager et al., 2006).

Accordingly, in the South African school boy cultural milieu, this study aimed to examine how males who endorse traditional masculinity think about their body image as a measure of self-worth as well as the consequent schemantic, psychoemotional and behavioural elements of conformity to traditional masculine ideology.


In social spaces masculinities operate as forms of systemic social arrangements and gender relations (Connell, 1995). Hegemonic masculinity is "the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position in a given pattern of gender relations" (Connell, 1995, p.76). Connell refers to Gramsci's (1973) idea of "hegemony" to describe masculinities ascending to dominance through culturally accepted norms and values which are tacitly complied with by men and women in the pursuit of the patriarchal dividend. This suggests that hegemonic masculinities are malleable, rife with difference and contradiction as they jostle with "lesser'' (2) masculinities and femininity(ies) for power (Connell, 1995, 2002).

This is most evident in social practices such as sport, labour, and sexual relations that illustrate, "The materiality of male bodies . …

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