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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.

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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

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!!!!!

 

#FeedMyBodyImage

News feeds – tailored to you (perhaps)!?

There is a growing body of research which links social media use with body dissatisfaction. However, the thing with social media is that what shows up in your news feed is very cleverly influenced by things like age, gender, location, interests, and many, many other possible varying factors. It is therefore, often difficult to know what images/information is popping up on other people’s news feeds. As such, this can be an issue in which misunderstanding and misrepresentation can arise.

My age seems to imply that I require recommendations in my feed for new glasses, anti-aging cream (pictured on a celebrity that clearly has no need for anti-wrinkle cream), those black ankle boots I looked at on another website once (slightly creepy how they do that), and of course, that ‘slimming’ little black dress for the upcoming festive season. However, I would predict that your adverts/suggested pages etc., are very different to mine, and perhaps unlike mine, may even contain something that you actually want to see.

With regards to body image, this means that whilst I may identify appearance related media upon my news feed, it is unlikely that this is the same material that younger people are seeing on their own news feeds. Therefore, it would be silly for me to assume that I am aware of the media messages being consumed by this age group. Having said this, my research focuses on young people. Thus, if this information is important, as research suggests it is, there is a clear requirement that an attempt is made to find out.

What is #FeedMyBodyImage?

#FeedMyBodyImage is a simple activity, where young people aged 16-21 are invited to help create a visual representation of appearance related media content (a ‘Media Montage’), as it is experienced by them on their own news feeds. This information will be used as a discussion tool both on this blog and the EveryBODY Talk Facebook page, which anyone is invited to join in. In addition, the visual representation will be utilised within focus group sessions, and to help inform further research.

Of course, given the individuality of news feeds that I have just discussed, there will be much variation in news feed data. However, it is hoped that this will be a good discussion point in itself. Therefore, the more diverse media images collected, the better.

What does it involve?

If you are aged 16-21 and you would like to take part in this activity by submitting images for the ‘Media Montage’, there are three simple steps to follow:

1. Scroll through your chosen social networking feed.

2. Send images related to appearance to the EveryBODY Talk Facebook page via private message, or by email: C.M.Whitaker@leedsbeckett.ac.uk (only publicly available images e.g., adverts – no personal pictures of you or your friends please).*

3. A ‘Media Montage’ will be constructed from images and made publicly available for viewing and discussion on the EveryBODY Talk Blog and Facebook page.

*All personal information, such as usernames and email addresses will be permanently deleted on receipt of images.

What types of images?

As I mentioned above, we are looking for publicly available images for this activity. This means images which anyone could see online if they were looking for them, but happen to be on your news feeds – so nothing from your friend’s pages, or private accounts that you have access to. Examples of this may be adverts, inspirational quotes from public figures, or something posted by a fitness blogger perhaps.

Do I have to take part to join in the discussion?

Absolutely not! Once the Media Montage has been constructed, this will be uploaded to the EveryBODY Talk pages, where anyone can have a look and comment if they wish. However, please be advised that social discussion surrounding the Media Montage may be used for research purposes.

As always, if you have any questions, and/or suggestions, or just want to say hi, please do get in touch. You can do this by clicking on the ‘Contact’ tab on the Home page, or by either of the methods mentioned above.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Body Stories Pt 2

It has been a little longer than I anticipated, but today I would like to continue with my discussion of the Loose Women campaign #MyBodyMyStory; once again focusing on the public response on social media.

I have been meaning to write this post for at least the past two weeks. However, there are two reasons for the delay:

1, I have been trying to write up a study and collect data for another (which I am looking forward to sharing with you very soon).

2, I was really quite frustrated about the comments that had prompted me to write, and my emotional babbling probably wouldn’t have made for a very good read.

Anyway, as indicated in my previous post, I want to talk about objectification and body shaming; which were unfortunately, two prevalent themes among reader responses to this campaign.

Objectification

What is it?

Objectification is defined as ‘the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.’ (Google Dictionary, 2017). This means that to objectify someone is to see, speak or treat them as if they have no thoughts, feelings and rights of their own, but are for example ‘a pretty face to look at’.

Objectification has been a central concept within feminist theory, with much discussion surrounding the damaging effects of such degrading, particularly in regards to gender inequality. One of my favourite theorists surrounding this theme is Laura Mulvey (1975), who discusses this in terms of the objectification of women in film. Indeed, in their essay entitled  “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Mulvey suggests that in the visual arts, objectification of the female form, for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer takes precedence. As a result, this positions women as passive, second class ‘objects’, in which only their appearance and the visual enjoyment it provides is valued.

But we are talking about a male body image campaign.

Whilst Mulvey’s essay looks at objectification in terms of the devaluing of women in film, it is important to remember that at the time of writing, there was still a much longer way to go towards gender equality than we see now. Indeed, writing in 1975, it was only in this year that the ‘Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act’ came into effect (The Guardian, 2003). Thus, the devaluation of women specifically was a very important topic of investigation. However, despite social discourses which may indicate otherwise, feminist theory is not specifically about the rights of women, but part of the movement towards gender equality.

In reading the comments on social media surrounding the male version of the Loose Women body confidence campaign, I was shocked to see so many responses in which the contributors were objectifying these men, particularly by women. Not just that, but in many cases, this was done in a negative fashion, which I can only describe as ‘Body Shaming’ these men. It was almost as if I had traveled back in time, and all the positive work towards reducing objectivity had been undone.

Don’t flaunt it then!

One argument is, that if these men did not want their bodies to be commented on, why do a photo shoot in just underwear? However, I wonder if the same women who degraded these men, would be as quick to body shame those who took part in the female version of the campaign. Of course, without asking them, I will never know. Nonetheless, my guess is – probably not!

The main problem for me is that these people probably did not see anything wrong with what they were posting in response to these pictures, and I would hope, had no intention of causing offence. Indeed, I think that this is a result of socialisation, and whilst there were also many people to point out that this body shaming was not okay, we do still need to look beyond those individuals to see what wider social influences might be contributing to continued objectification.

Habits

We all know what a habit is. I have a habit of grinding my teeth when I am concentrating, others may have the habit of biting their nails. They are all learned behaviours, which often become automatic responses, and can sometimes be quite difficult to give up.

I believe that this is the same with commenting on, or at least privately evaluating others physical attributes. Thus, whilst we are all very aware that people are not objects and that their attributes are wide ranging, through involvement with various social practices, talking about and thinking about the physical body and its properties has become the primary response for many, and perhaps, what we might call a habit!

Bodies, bodies, everywhere!

Everywhere we turn, there are pictures of bodies, discussion of bodies, celebration of bodies, and a whole host of other appearance related images and topics of discussion. From the latest fad diet advertisement on your social networking news feed, to the muscular models on the covers of glossy magazines, we are bombarded with information surrounding the physical body. This is something which has been steadily increasing over time, and does not look likely to change any time soon.

Indeed, if we take a moment to consider (for example) some popular dating apps, in which potential matches are presented in the form of a profile picture, and little else. This is vastly different from the days when no one had a personal internet connection, let alone a phone to swipe left or right, and the Friday Ad housed all the personal dating ads in the form of around 50 words (not pictures) each.

I am not saying that physical aspects of the body are not important, indeed as I have said before, maintaining your physical health is extremely important. In addition, I would not be fooling anyone by saying that physical attraction is irrelevant (although there is no objective measure of this – we have all heard someone describe their ‘particular type’). What I am saying, is that I believe we can begin to see how the habit of passing judgement on physical appearance may be socially constructed.

The Point?

body image

Body shaming is never okay, NEVER! This applies to all genders, all ages, and whether someone is wearing a swim suit, or one of those coats that looks like a sleeping bag that my mum would never let me have (but looked sooooo cozy)!

In fact, even supposedly positive comments on someone else’s body, such as “wow, you’ve gained, you look amazing!” can be extremely damaging – did they not look great before? However, I believe that commenting upon someone’s physical appearance has become a bit of a social habit, and one which will take a while to undo.

Even so, we can begin by understanding objectification, and realising that commenting on other people’s bodies (in a positive or negative way) is something that seems to have developed into a habit that we should probably try and break.

Therefore, I challenge you to write your own list of compliments that are not about physical appearance and try to use these instead of commenting on someone’s (or even your own) body.

Habits are hard to break, but not impossible! This appears to be a society wide habit, lets start providing the tools to help undo it.

References

Mulvey, L (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen, vol. 16, no. 3, p. 6.