Men, Appearance, and Cosmetic Surgery: The Role of Self-Esteem and Comfort with the Body

By Ricciardelli, Rosemary; Clow, Kimberley | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Men, Appearance, and Cosmetic Surgery: The Role of Self-Esteem and Comfort with the Body


Ricciardelli, Rosemary, Clow, Kimberley, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Bourdieu (1987) theorized, in his self-reflective analysis on aesthetics and art, that the eye of the 20th century art lover is really a product of history. For Bourdieu, how people view art is a product of all they have learned about art, and the field in which art appears is embedded with all the meanings and value people learn to associate with art over time (Bourdieu 1987). We believe that, in the same sense, how physical appearance is perceived is a product of the field (i.e., the society) in which one is exposed. The field then appears to individuals as immediately endowed with meanings and values. Thus, individuals assess their appearance based on what society has deemed attractive, meaningful, and valuable. As a result, an individual's feelings of self-worth (i.e., self-esteem) may be affected by how that person believes society views their body.

IMAGES OF THE BODY

Bordo (1993) and Bartky (1990) argued that the body, particularly the female body, is dominated or oppressed through the practices and bodily habits of everyday life. Bordo (1993:16) explains that "culture's grip on the body is a constant, intimate fact of everyday life." This is evident historically, as objectified and sexualized portrayals in advertisements, magazines, and other media primarily portrayed images of women which perpetuated a culture of sexuality and physical appearance (Archer et al. 1983; Courtney and Whipple 1983; Goffman 1979; Lueptow et al. 2001). Images of men, in contrast, were restricted to athletic portrayals and "action shots" or facial photos, where men were individualized agents rather than sexualized marketing tools (Davis 2002; Hall and Crum 1994; Sullivan and O'Conner 1988). Thus, the portrayal of the male body tended to perpetuate more traditional images of masculinity.

Furthermore, Connell (1983:18) examined the social construction of the male body, focusing on "the physical sense of maleness." According to Connell, the male body is athletic, developed, skilled, large, powerful, forceful, and strong. It occupies space (whereas the female body does not) and is inherently heterosexual. Boys, starting in primary school, are expected to participate in sports. As adults, men are expected to be strong, athletic, and skilled in diverse realms of their life--work, sexuality, and fatherhood. These physically embodied dimensions of masculinity are mixed with the psychological and social dynamics of masculinity, which can lead men to feel they are unable to live up to their image or expectations (Carrigan, Connell, and Lee 1985; Connell 1983). This element of masculinity is complicated by the fact that the masculine identity is constructed during times of social, structural, or personal change (Connell 1995).

More recently, the male body has become increasingly visible and sexualized (Bordo 1999; Gill et al. 2005). For example, advertisements featuring men sexually posed in briefs (e.g., Calvin Klein, Dolce and Gabbana advertisements) have become common place in magazines (e.g., Maxim, Men's Health, GQ, OUT, etc.) and on billboards. Gill et al. (2005:39-40) state that

   men's bodies are on display as never before, from the muscular
   heroes of the cinematic action genre, to the 'sixpacks' who grace
   the covers of Men's Health, and the 'superwaifs' of contemporary
   style magazines.

Overall, despite the type of male body being depicted, there is widespread agreement among researchers that a shift has occurred: from being almost invisible, the male body has become hypervisible in the media (Bordo 1999; Gill et al. 2005). The reasons for this shift are contested: different theorists credit different explanations, such as the gay movement, feminism, the style press, consumerism, and changing gender roles (Chapman and Rutherford 1988; Edwards 1997; Featherstone 1991; Gill et al. 2000; 2005; Moore 1988; Mort 1996; Nixon 1996; Simpson 1994). Whatever the reason for this shift, one reality remains evident: the male body in contemporary culture is both highly sexual and highly visible. …

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