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Multiculturalism and Social Work | San Francisco State University

Masculinity, eating, and exercise: The relationship of men to their bodies.

Author: Kennedy, Brett Patrick
Author Background: California School Of Professional Psychology - Berkeley/Alameda, US
Date 7/2000
Type Dissertation
Journal Title: Dissertation-Abstracts-International:-Section-B:-The-Sciences-and-Engineering
Volume/Pages Vol 61(1-B): 535
Subject Matter Research, Gender, Men, Eating Attitudes; Exercise; Health Attitudes; Masculinity; Physical Fitness
Abstract The purpose of the study was to investigate the sociocultural context that constructs understandings of the relationship of male identity and the body. Twenty-one men who worked out an average of four times per week participated in a semi-structured interview that explored how men assign meanings and shared understandings related to masculinity, eating, and exercise in today's culture. The men's responses were analyzed to uncover commonalities and differences in the rituals, cultural conventions, social practices and historical understandings related to the male body. The men in the study reflected stereotypical masculine gender role ideals that men should be physically 'strong,' mentally acute, and emotionally contained. Self-discipline in mind and body contributed to body image concerns, excessive and compensatory exercise practices, and restrictive eating patterns in many of the men. The men had a propensity to feel 'small and physically inadequate despite possessing obvious musculature and physically fit bodies. Although men did work and diet for preventative health measures, nearly all of the men placed considerable emphasis on vanity and ability to attract a partner as motivation for engaging in such bodily pursuits. Many of the men in the sample spent considerable time at the gym but felt socially isolated from peers except for the sense of comaraderie or competition shared by the common pursuit of building one's body. A majority of these men reflected both their skepticism of the media and their awareness of the manipulative aspects of advertising and the 'extreme' or 'ideal' images of what constitutes masculinity in the media. Nonetheless, media remained influential in inspiring men to work out diet, and try new exercises or products. Because the media images for men, for the most part, sexualize and glamorize a muscular fit body, the subjects confirmed that they felt influenced to shape and build their bodies. In order to shape and build their bodies, the men were concerned with decreasing body fat percentages without compromising muscle mass. Such bodybuilding practices necessitated consistent exercise and restrictive dieting practices with respect to food content, frequency, and portions without sacrificing necessary calories that could diminish muscle gains. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2000 APA, all rights reserved)