Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Picture Perfect Bodies: Visualizing Hegemonic Masculinities Produced For/by Male Fitness Spaces

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Picture Perfect Bodies: Visualizing Hegemonic Masculinities Produced For/by Male Fitness Spaces

Article excerpt

The body has become a crucial element in individuals' overall identity project-a constant site for self-improvement (Bordo, 2003). This drive for bodily improvement implicates the body as a multidimensional project of the self and of systems of power-a space where power is targeted and produced. Throughout this co-production of body politics, fitness emerges as an especially salient ideology. Much research has focused on women's experiences with fitness (Aubrey 2006a, 2006b; Henderson-King, Henderson-King, & Hoffman, 2001; Kilbourne, 1994, 2003). While a healthy volume of research has also focused on men's experiences (see Cafri, Strauss, & Thompson, 2002; Drummond, 2002; Labre, 2005), the volume of literature is significantly smaller. Still, since the 1980s, the muscular ideal- that is, the "rapid rise in interest in the muscularity dimension of body image" (Thompson & Cafri, 2007, p. 3)-became a topic of interest, and men are now bombarded with images of muscular masculinity to a degree far greater than ever before (Pope et al., 2000). Given this increased visibility, men's body image concerns have risen drastically (see Cafri, Strauss, & Thompson, 2002).

Any conversation surrounding the body and body image ideals must at least acknowledge the power of advertising and media. Although to a lesser degree than women, men's bodies are consistently highlighted in mainstream media and these media tell a very specific tale about male fitness. Men are told that their bodies are to be finessed for sexual conquest- "Better abs, better sex!" (Muscular Development, 2015)-aesthetic dominance-"How to split your shirt in 6 steps" (Flex, 2015)-social and economic capital-"Spike your metabolism, double your salary, boost your energy" (Men's Health, 2015)-and beyond. With the power of fitness, advertising sells an impressive benefits package. And because the stakes are so high, men are told they need to "build bigger guns" (Muscular Evolution, 2015), sculpt "weapons of mass definition" (Fitness: His Edition, 2015) and "Get combat ready" (Muscle and Fitness4 2011). As such, the male body is a site well suited for examinations of hegemonic masculinity.

Lanzieri and Hildebrandt (2011) contend that, "masculinity is molded by sociocultural constellations that continually shape its constructions into areas of sexuality and gender" (p. 277; see also Butler, 1993). As Kimmel (1994) notes, the drive for masculinity has always been concerned with the overwhelming need to establish specific boundaries between masculinity and femininity. In opposition to femininity's gendered traits of compassion, gentility, dependence, and passivity, hegemonic masculinity seeks to capitalize on hyper-masculine bodily performances of aggression, independence, confidence, and emotion-free logic. Masculinity is not a fixed construct, rather it is a (corporeal) performance. Connell (1995) asserts:

True masculinity is almost always thought to proceed from men's bodies-to be inherent in a male body or to express something about a male body. Either the body drives and directs action (e.g., men are naturally more aggressive than women; rape results from uncontrollable lust or an innate urge to violence), or the body sets limits to action (e.g., men naturally do not take care of infants; homosexuality is unnatural and therefore confined to a perverse minority). (p. 45)

When situated within the well-developed body of literature that confirms men are actively seeking a very specific type of body - that is a mesomorphic (see Sheldon, 1954), well-developed, athletic, muscular, toned body (Epel, Spanakos, Kasl-Godley, & Brownwell, 1996; Mishkind et al., 1985; Thompson & Cafri, 2007; Tucker, 1984)- men's performance(s) of masculinity vis-a-vis the body emerge as a theoretical context ripe for examination.

This body project invokes Foucauldian (1979) notions of the disciplined body-"a body which is controlled not by physical restrain, but by individual acts of self-regulation" (Pienaar & Bekker, 2007, p. …

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