Searching for Masculine Capital: Experiences Leading to High Drive for Muscularity in Men

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Abstract

Studies on the drive for muscularity (DFM) have primarily been quantitative, focused on identifying correlates. Currently little is known about men’s experiences leading them to desire high levels of muscle and engage in behaviors to increase their masculine capital. Our purpose was to explore the stories of men with high DFM revealing the sociocultural and personal factors leading to DFM and their search for masculine capital. In-depth life-history interviews and multiple in-the-field conversations were undertaken with 20 men (Mean age = 28.45, SD = 6.96, years) scoring ≥3 on the Drive for Muscularity Scale (M = 4.30, SD = 0.70). Men’s stories focused on a set of dysfunctional childhood and adolescent sociocultural interactions, including forms of symbolic violence, between them and significant others. In these interactions men were exposed to dominant social narratives of masculinity, and through comparisons and reinforcement they identified discrepancies between themselves and these narratives. In late adolescence and early adulthood men came to believe that they lacked masculine capital. Men struggled to increase their masculine capital through engagement with other traditional masculine activities (e.g., sport) and driven by activating events, they compensated through DFM desires and behaviors. This study advances knowledge by revealing the sociocultural and personal processes participants believed led to their high DFM. Findings disclose that men’s search for masculine capital may have led them to develop and maintain high levels of DFM.

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