My Shape: Young Men’s Perceptions of Their Relationship to Their Bodies

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This study addresses the meaning young men construct around body image over their life course. The sample consisted of 25 young men’s (aged 18 to 28 years; average of 20.32 years) open-ended narrative responses to questions prompting them to reflect upon their relationship to their body, and how it has changed from their childhood to young adulthood, and to imagine their body in 10 years. We used constructivist grounded theory methods of open and focused coding to develop a theoretical storyline that revealed men’s perceptions of and relationship to their own masculine bodies. Based on this qualitative analysis, we identified four major themes: (a) how young men gained knowledge about their body, (b) how they perceived their body and their behavior toward their body, (c) the developmental trajectory of their relationship to their body, and (d) their resulting perception of their body image as satisfactory or not. The study highlights the importance of understanding how body image develops and changes over time. Parents, teachers, coaches, and clinicians should recognize the pressure on young men to conform to idealized standards of masculine appearance and how that can compromise their surveillance of specific body parts. Adding to the complexity of male body image research, we found that the engagement in body shape behaviors and the experience of different turning points in a person’s life contributed to the experience of body image satisfaction. Future research should explore the role of power and control in the experience of body image over the life course.

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