Men and Their Bodies
The interview sample
We set out to interview 140 young men in four different locations in
the UK. We tried to get a mix of north and south, Welsh locations, and
a mix of urban and rural. Above all, we wanted to get a sample that was
characterised by differences. One-hundred-and-forty is not a huge sample,
and 'one cannnot make too-great generalisations from that number, but
we wanted to have a sense of the diversity of experiences as a basic characteristic.
The sample is therefore very marked by diversities of various kinds. Our
age range, which was 15-35, and class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation
were all very important to us.
We interviewed the men in one of two ways. We either did what we called an 'individual life history' interview, where they sat down one-to-one with the interviewer, taking us through their childhood right up to the present day (the interviewer was nearly always Carl MacLean, but occasionally was Rosalind Gill). We also interviewed them in focus groups, with three or four other men, bouncing ideas off each other. The kinds of things we touched upon included everything from growing up, their experience of boyhood, their relationship with their siblings and parents, to their aspirations for the future in terms of jobs, careers, education, whether they wanted to become parents at any point, and so on. In among that mix of biographical questions were a number of questions specifically concerned with bodily practices: everything from dieting, to using the gym, to whether they would have their nose pierced, and also their reactions to body images of men.
Responses to the body images of men
It wasn't just that some of these men said 'Oh yes I feel pressured'
and others said 'I don't like these images because the men are so narcissistic'.
It was that the men actually moved between different responses so that
the same man could actually potentially inhabit all eight different responses.
He might at one moment say 'Actually these are really sexy, I find them
quite erotic', and at another moment say 'But honestly! God they put so
much pressure [to be like them]'. We didn't actually find an individual
who embodied all eight, but that was a real potential, and many of the
men did move between two or three of what we've called discourses or repertoires
or ways of responding.