Blog

Body Talk

 

It’s been a while!

It has been quite a while since my last blog post, and I hope that I will be able to add to this a lot more frequently over the next few months. However, today I am very excited to share with you, a new study as part of my PhD research.

Having had difficulty previously with recruiting participants to take part in my research, I decided that I needed to reflect upon why I might be having problems in getting young men to engage with the topics of body image and appearance.

The result……

A new study, for which I began data collection yesterday.

Image may contain: text

So for those of you who don’t know me – Hello, my name is Candice and I am a PhD student at Leeds Beckett University, researching male body image and appearance – thanks for dropping by.

I am currently looking for males aged between 16-39 years, to take part in an anonymous online survey.
If you decide to take part, you will be asked some background questions, such as your age and sexual orientation, followed by 8 questions surrounding male appearance.

For more information, or to take part in the survey, please click the link below:
https://leedsbeckettpsych.eu.qualtrics.com/…/SV_86t3cmbnXQV…

Please feel free to share, and thank you for considering taking part in this study.

 

What’s next?

Well, I am also hoping to conduct some individual interviews over the next few months, either face-to-face, by telephone, or via Skype. So if you fit the same criteria as above and think that you might be interested in participating in one of these interviews, it would be great to hear from you. You can contact me on here, or by email: C.M.Whitaker@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

Keep well, and I look forward to keeping you updated with how the research is going.

Candice

Advertisements

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!

DhL50UjX0AAi6Pa

Big Boys Should [be allowed to] Cry!

Time to write!

It has been an extremely busy few months, and despite my intention to blog more often, it just hasn’t come to fruition – my bad!

To be honest, I just wasn’t sure if I had anything to write that would be of interest. However, three things happened that have stuck in my mind over the last couple of weeks, and I realised that I want to talk about them, and perhaps you might be interested by these too.

The first thing….

I presented some provisional findings at a couple of conferences and had some really interesting discussions with other researchers about these. As a result, I got to practice justifying the methods I have adopted without just stamping my foot and declaring “because I wanted to!” – which was never going to win me any any ‘competent researcher’ points!

Second….

I came across a newspaper article discussing the issues with promoting ‘extreme male body transformations’ as healthy and sustainable. This was a really interesting article, which if you are interested, can be found here at: theguardian.com.

Third….

England got knocked out of the World Cup in the semi finals against Croatia.

Given that point three happened just yesterday, and that I don’t have time to write about all three right now, for today I will focus on this topic as I am currently extremely worked up about it.

What has the football got to do with body image research?

Well, a lot actually – kind of!

So England got knocked out of the World Cup.
Sad? Possibly!
Expected? Well, I am sure that you have your own opinions about this.

But this isn’t the point! I want to talk about why it is okay to be emotional about football not coming home this year (or anything else for that matter), and why it is not okay for anyone to question your emotional expression!

Can you see where I am going yet?

You may or may not have noticed that my bio has changed slightly, and that is because (as often happens throughout a PhD) my research has been adapted as a result of the reflexive process (e.g. gaining new insights and identifying important areas for further exploration).

One of the findings from my first study indicated that whilst we may often hear the phrase ‘boys don’t talk’, it may actually be a case that men feel that they can’t talk about certain topics (like body image); due to their inherent emotional association.

This has led me to further explore masculine ideals and the social discussions which draw upon these. In particular, I am looking at the social messages that are in circulation, which may work to restrict open discussion of men’s body image and appearance related issues.

What I have found is that whilst there seems to be an active (and necessary) critical discussion in circulation, which aims to challenge ideals which may restrict open discussion for men (not just for body image, but also talking about emotions and issues in general – see here and here for some examples), these are being contradicted in many ways, and it is upsetting!

Crying at the football!

People cried last night both on the pitch, and in bars and homes around the UK. People cried over a game that they were not even playing in themselves. Men cried, and women cried too – social media is up in arms!

How dare people (read men) cry over something as silly as football when there are so many terrible things happening in the world; these men should ‘grow a pair’!

Really???!!! Are we really still at a point where it is considered acceptable to ridicule men for actually expressing their emotions?

Granted, not all expressions are a good thing, and the World Cup may not be the best example to use considering the increase in destructive expressions reported, such as domestic violence discussed here.

Even so, I am talking about crying, and men should be able to cry about whatever they want, without being questioned or mocked – we all should.

So what about the question of the actual emotional labour that should be attached to a game of kick-about? Well, there are two simple answers to this:

  1. It is none of anyone else’s business. And so long as emotion is not expressed in a destructive way that could cause harm – why do you even care?
  2. How do you know that the expressed emotion is not actually displaced (where feelings about one object or situation are unconsciously attributed to something else) onto the football situation?

With regards to point 2, we do it all the time. I have certainly been frustrated at something and taken it out on someone else. I have also sat and cried uncontrollably at a film that really wasn’t very sad, but I had had a bad day and it just came out.

I would like to add that this was in a full cinema, yet no one questioned me as to why I had mascara streaming down my face on the way out!

Don’t cry shame men!

I can’t really say whether no one said anything to me was because I am a woman or not, but the fact of the matter is that I have never been made fun of for crying, and I would have a few choice words to give if I was – I can cry if I want to! So why is the same privilege apparently not afforded to men by some people; and how is this impacting upon the ability for men to openly discuss sensitive issues?

Well, it seems clear to me that this type of discourse is reproducing damaging masculine ideals; the very ideals that are reported here by Jonathan Wells to be destructive and skew our understanding of what it is to be a man in contemporary culture.

What a confusing state of affairs – on the one hand we are telling men that it’s okay to talk about their feelings, and in the next scroll on their phone, they see someone being made fun of for crying! This is surely confusing at the very least, and ultimately undermining any positive messages being disseminated.

This is not okay, and I am not okay with this! However, right now the only answer that I have is to try as hard as I can to make sure I help support the positive movements in any way I can, because I don’t want men to think it is not okay to cry (or have open discussions about anything that is affecting them) – it totally is okay to cry!!!!!

 

 

 

 

Fear – it most definitely exists!

Who has ever said “I can’t”, despite knowing full well that you probably could, if you just tried? This is something I have a habit of doing, and if you asked my friends, they would probably say that it is one of the most irritating things I do (and I am pretty sure that I can be quite irritating at times!).

I recently started bouldering.  For anyone that doesn’t know what this is, it’s a form of indoor climbing, but because it is more about mastering a route than height, harnesses are not required. The thing with this however, is that height and the requirement for harnesses is clearly a matter of perspective. Indeed, sure enough, when I got to the top of a route (the easiest one there, I might add!) on my first climb, there was no way on Earth that anyone was going to tell me that I wasn’t up high – or that I didn’t require a harness in case I fell!!!!

I can promise you that when I looked down, it was like I was about a thousand feet away from the floor. Clearly this is an exaggeration, but it really doesn’t matter to someone who is scared of heights (like most of us are), which is a common trait with evolutionary significance (more on this here if you are interested).

I felt dizzy, my heart was racing, my hands were sweaty, and I felt sick at the fact that I had to climb all the way back down. All this, despite the fact that my climbing partner, who is much more experienced than I am, and (unfortunately for him) was supervising me (the frozen to the spot woman at the top of the wall), had assured me that I could do it, and even if I fell, the floor is heavily padded, and people fall off all the time.

So what happened?

Well, first of all, I said (you guessed it) “I CAN’T”.

Then I reiterated, slightly louder……

“I CAN’T”

However, I soon realised that I was wasting time and energy by not doing the one thing that would get what I wanted – my feet back on the floor, as well as prove to myself that I CAN do it.

It was quite easy really, I mean, everyone around me was showing that it was possible, and they had such satisfied looks on their faces that I wanted to feel that sense of achievement too. I got to the bottom, and with my feet firmly on the floor, I could feel that I had the most ridiculous grin across my face. Then realising that there was never a “Can’t”, but an “I won’t, because I am scared right now”, I had a thought, and this is where my story (I hope) ties in with the focus of this blog site – Body image…..

How does this relate to body image?

Well, first is the obvious; my body is pretty amazing, and can do some pretty awesome things, even if my brain sometimes thinks otherwise! This goes to show that sometimes, it is easy for our judgement about our bodies to be wrong, especially when all around us, others appear to be ‘better’ in some way.

In reality, my climbing friends have all told me that everyone feels the same as I did when they first started, it just isn’t something they talk about – and this is the big one for me in regards to body image and in particular, body dissatisfaction!

If we don’t talk about it, does it still exist?

Just like if I was having negative feelings about my appearance that I hadn’t told my friends about, if I had tried to keep quiet my screeching of “I CAN’T”, they may never have known. In their minds, the fear may never have existed.

Even so,  just as the unspoken thoughts, feelings and perceptions that we may have about our bodies at times, with my sweaty palms and a racing heart, my fear of heights and falling would have definitely still been there – the unspoken feelings would still exist!

However, had I been able to hide this from my friends, not only would I have been the only one to experience this, they may also have been the only ones who had ever experienced it too. This is the same with thoughts about our bodies which are left unspoken – they exist to no one but you, but may be experienced by many.

That doesn’t make sense!

Well, you are probably right, this appeared much more straight forward in my head. What I am trying to say is that, had I not disclosed (in quite a spectacular way) that I was feeling the way I was when climbing, I wouldn’t have known that others feel the same way. In addition, as my friends pointed out:

“it just isn’t something they talk about”

This means that if I hadn’t spoken out about my fear, not only would I not have realised how common it is, my friends may never have had the discussion which normalised their own fear that they never talked about.

I am sure that you can draw the comparison here with regards to body image –

If we don’t discuss individual concerns, we might never realise how common they are!

Indeed, whilst this appears to be slowly changing, non-disclosure of concerns surrounding body image and appearance is common. As a result, it can seem like we are alone in feeling this way, reducing the likelihood of discussing any personal concerns even more.

However, with reports of up to 70% of young people being unhappy with their bodies (British Youth Council, 2017), it seems likely that any concerns are not individual, but shared with others – they exist, and they exist for other people too.

Even so, body image can be a sensitive issue, with an historic tendency not to discuss feelings of unhappiness with our bodies (particularly in the male population). Thus, increasing the evidently required discussion surrounding these issues is difficult.

How do we do it then?

As I indicated above, things are slowly changing, and there does appear to be an increase in the discussion of potentially sensitive issues such as body image. There is no doubt that this has been aided by campaigns, such as the celebrity endorsed body confidence campaigns I have previously written about. However, in order to go further, more research into the specificity of body image and appearance related concerns (particularly in relation to men and boys) is required.

In the next month or so, I will be launching an online survey surrounding the topic of male body image and appearance, as part of my PhD project. The survey will invite men and boys aged 16-39 to get involved with some much needed further research, by providing anonymous responses to several questions about male appearance.

I look forward to sharing the survey, as well as the findings from this project on this site at a later date.

For now, I can highly recommend bouldering. And if you scream as loud as me – that’s okay – fear exists, it is quite normal, and I experience it too!!!!!