Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"It's about What I Can Do with My Body": Body Image and Embodied Experiences of Aging among Older Canadian Men

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"It's about What I Can Do with My Body": Body Image and Embodied Experiences of Aging among Older Canadian Men

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to explore retirement-age men's perceptions of body image and embodied experiences of aging. Individual interviews and follow-up focus groups were conducted with fifteen Canadian men aged 60 to 70. Data were transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically. Findings highlighted the complex perceptions of body image for older men. Findings suggest that participants placed more emphasis on function than on appearance, with men feeling that aging played an important role in body image attitudes and how they viewed themselves through their bodies. The findings also suggest that gender and to some extent masculinity played a role in participants' body image and embodied experiences. Implications in light of existing literature and directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: aging, body image, embodiment, masculinity, older men

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Although body image research has traditionally focused on women, scholarly interest in the body image of men has increased in recent years (e.g., Bottamini & Ste-Marie, 2006; Murray & Touyz, 2012; Ryan & Morrison, 2009). Literature suggests that men inhabit a different social environment than women and therefore experience unique body image concerns and experiences (Grogan, 2008; McCreary et al., 2007). For example, due to societal ideals being different for men and women, men are more often dissatisfied with muscularity generally in the upper torso, while women are more often dissatisfied with thinness generally in the lower torso (Cafri & Thompson, 2004; Grogan, 2012). Furthermore, Halliwell and Dittmar (2003) found that men were more likely than women to conceptualize the body as a whole and to focus on functionality rather than appearance. They also found that "women viewed aging most negatively in terms of its impact on appearance, whereas men reported a neutral or even positive impact on appearance" (p. 675). Despite the push toward understanding men's body image there is a great need for additional research into the experience of men at various life stages (Grogan, 2012; McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2004). Specifically, little research has focused on the body image of older men (Drummond, 2003; Slevin & Linneman, 2010).

Similar to research of men's body image, scholarly interest in male embodiment has increased in recent years. Only a few decades ago, researchers lamented the absence of the body in sociological research in areas such as health, sport, and disability (Shilling, 1993); in particular, researchers noted the lack of empirical research of "the voices that emanate from the bodies themselves" (Nettleton & Watson, 1998, p. 2). In recent years, researchers have begun to bring the body back into sociological research, in part by taking an embodied perspective (Robertson, 2006; Watson, 2000). For example, researchers have explored male embodiment as it relates to sport (Schyfter, 2008), cardiac rehabilitation (Robertson, Sheikh & Moore, 2010), coping with spinal cord injuries (Sparkes & Smith, 2002), and experiences of androgen deprivation therapy (Oliffe, 2006). However, there is still a need for increased empirical research exploring embodied masculinities (Robertson et al., 2010). Furthermore, researchers have argued that taking into consideration experiences of the body is vital to understanding masculine identity (McDonald, 2009; McVittie & Willock, 2006).

Recent research has suggested that men's body image and embodied experiences are more complex than previously thought. For example, body image concerns may be more prevalent than in the past and may lead to a variety of negative health outcomes (e.g., Gough & Flanders, 2009; Grogan, 2008; McArdle & Hill, 2009; Ryan & Morrison, 2009). Scholars have argued that in modern society, male bodies are increasingly being represented as objects to be viewed and individuals are increasingly being charged as responsible for the appearance and maintenance of the body (Gill, Henwood, & Mclean, 2005; Monaghan, 2005). …

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