Men’s Body Talk – Preliminary Findings.

Some (Very) Preliminary Findings

If you read my last post, you may remember that I said I had presented some preliminary findings at conferences a few weeks ago – if you didn’t read it, well now you also know.

What are preliminary findings?

Well, at the moment, I am just coming to the end of my data collection period, and as such, have not yet began the enormous task (I will discuss this at a later date) of systematically analysing all the data (the experiences and opinions) that the young men who have participated in my research have kindly shared.

However, conferences are a wonderful way of engaging with other researchers and other interested individuals, where you are able to discuss research and the methods employed. They also offer the opportunity for people to ask questions about your research, which can be really useful for reflection purposes. In particular, people may ask a question which makes you look at things slightly differently, or highlight an important factor that you may have overlooked.

Clearly this last point can be really useful in the early stages of analysis, so that thought provoking questions can be considered reflexively. Therefore, sharing preliminary findings – in this case, some general observations of the data – is both necessary and a little scary all at the same time.

Why is it scary?

As a critical researcher (but this extends to anyone doing research), it is extremely important that I am transparent in my approach, and that people can see clearly how I have drawn the conclusions I make from the data. In addition, what may appear interesting from a quick scan of the data, may take on a completely new meaning later on, during analysis.

Therefore, I needed to be sure that I did not make any grand claims of having ‘found’ something, or try to draw any conclusions from the preliminary findings, instead focusing more on showing exactly how I aim to analyse the data for this study. However, I did suggest that I see a theme being created through my initial exploration, as well as indicate visually, a possible discrepancy between what young men consider the biggest worries regarding body image and appearance for men their age, and the personal concerns disclosed by participants.

“It is refreshing to be allowed”

Many men who took part in the anonymous survey for this research indicated that implicit social barriers were suggested to habitually prevent open discussion between men, often only negotiated with the use of humour. However, the opportunity to discuss the topic anonymously for this survey was often welcomed.

What are implicit social barriers?

In the case of this research, the implicit social barriers mentioned, appear to bring us back to the topic of masculinity and what is and is not considered ‘manly’ behaviour.

These are considered implicit because there is often no one directly telling someone what manly behaviour is. Even so, a general idea permeates social understandings, which can either be reproduced by pertaining to these implicit rules (i.e. not talking about certain things, such as body image), or challenged.

For example, one participant said:

“there is a fear of discussing it as it may seem unmasculine.”

I suggest that this comment implies an unknown, in that no one seems to have directly said to the participant “you must not talk about body image”, yet there still appears to be some understanding that it is probably not what men should do.

Discrepancy between what issues are suggested to be prevalent among men and personal worries disclosed.

As I said previously, I have not conducted a full analysis as yet, and thus I cannot make any suggestions of the significance of this preliminary finding. However, to use an analogy, if I did not talk to my kids about what they did at school, I might have a vague idea of possible learning topics due to my own experience of primary school, but it is unlikely that I would be that accurate!

So what was the take home message from the conference contribution?

Obviously we hope that when we present something at a conference, it will be of some interest to others, and I was fortunate enough to have some really interesting discussions whilst I was there. One of the questions that I was asked was why I had decided to conduct qualitative research on this topic (why I have asked open ended questions, and asked participants to share their experiences), rather than quantitative methods which can provide us with statistical information.

I believe that even from the preliminary findings, the answer to this is quite obvious – here is so much that we don’t yet know about male body image!

Therefore, we need to try to explore this through the words of young men themselves, and not some predetermined idea that I have about how men discuss and experience body image. As such, the research questions which underpin this study can only be explored through qualitative methods – questions that I believe are extremely important if we are to understand and eventually even try to reduce body image related issues in young men.

What’s next?

I have a lot of work ahead of me and am really excited to get stuck in once I have finished transcribing the interviews I have had with young men. However, before I do that I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has taken part in this research. It has been an absolute pleasure to talk to so many people, and receive your thoughts and experiences in the survey – so thank you!

Here is the conference poster, and me with my cheesy grin!


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