Younger and Older Gay Men's Bodies

Article excerpt

Abstract

Mens bodies and mens body image have increasingly been gathering attention from both research academics and popular press journalists over the past 10 years. Arguably Western culture has tended to identify these body image issues in men as heterosexual notions. Research on gay mens body image has been increasing and there is now evidence to suggest that gay males have been identified as presenting a greater risk of body image disturbance than heterosexual males as a consequence of an aesthetically driven gay culture. Recent debate has focussed more on younger gay males as it has been argued that such a demographic are more likely to be impacted by the 'look', which is centred around body physique, fashion and personal grooming. Older gay males have tended to be overlooked in this discussion. Therefore their perspectives on bodies have been included in this paper to highlight the issues that both young and ageing gay men identify as being significant within the context of their lives.

Keywords: body image, younger gay men, older gay men, life histories

Introduction

This paper is based on the life histories of gay men and the issues that confront them with respect to body image and masculine identity. The men who offer to tell their 'stories' come from two distinct groups: younger gay men (18-25 years) and older gay men (within the baby boomer generation). Rich descriptive data from each of the groups of gay males were attained through extensive individual indepth interviews. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and then analysed to identify themes. While each of the men offered their own individual life histories, their stories have been collectively thematically analysed and compared and contrasted to one another. Indeed, one might call it a 'meta -thematic' analysis. The paper will highlight the aesthetically driven culture in which gay men exist and how each of these groups of men come to terms with the issues that confront them with respect to their bodies. While many people view gay men as a culturally marginalised and stigmatised group, this paper will highlight that age plays a role in the internal marginalisation and stigmatisation within gay cultures, particularly where bodies are concerned. The archetypal gay male body is muscular, athletic, devoid of fat and hairless. There is also an inherent perception in Western cultures that he is young. The men in this paper reflect upon having to live up to or challenge these expectations or simply come to terms with the fact that they will never attain this archetype.

Men's bodies and body image have been gaining attention in terms of academic scrutiny as well as curiosity from popular and tabloid press over the past 10-12 years (Drummond, 2002). It is now argued that contemporary men are susceptible to body image concerns and are not immune to conditions to such as eating disorders, exercise obsession and musde dysmorphia which has resulted in this inaeased level of inspection (Drummond, 1999; 2002; Pope, Phillips & Olivardia, 2000). The increased level of inspection has also been termed 'the gaze' and it is arguable that, particularly in contemporary Western culture, the gaze associated with men's bodies has never been stronger. An increase in the level of media attention, advertising and popular culture television programs has been identified as heightening this gaze (Drummond, 2005a). It is arguable that men's bodies are being portrayed in ways that commercialise and objectify the male body similar to ways in which the female body has been, and continues to be, commodified. According to researchers, this has played a significant role in the construction of male body image concern (Pope et al., 2000).

Discussion on men's body image has primarily focussed on heterosexual male bodies. I have argued in the past that this is largely due to the fact that men's body image concerns and eating disorders, which have taken some time to be acknowledged as masculinised conditions, have been positioned under the rubric of heterosexual men's health (Drummond, 2005a). …