Body projects and the regulation of normative masculinity

Gill, Rosalind; Henwood, Karen and McLean, Carl (2005). Body projects and the regulation of normative masculinity. Body & Society, 11(1) pp. 37–62.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1357034X05049849

Abstract

Drawing on interviews with 140 young British males, this article explores the ways in which men talk about their own bodies and bodily practices, and those of other men. The specific focus of interest is a variety of body modification practices. We argue, however, that the significance of this analysis extends beyond the topic of body modification. In discussing the appearance of their bodies, the men we interviewed talked less about muscle and skin than about their own selves located within particular social, cultural and moral universes. This article shows that, in talking about seemingly trivial questions such as whether to have one's nose pierced or join a gym, men are actively engaged in regulating normative masculinity. Our analysis lends support to the claim that the body has become a new (identity) project in high/late/post-modernity, but shows how fraught with difficulties this project is for young men who must simultaneously work on and discipline their bodies while disavowing any (inappropriate) interest in their own appearance. The analysis highlights the pervasive individualism of young men's discourses, and the absence of alternative ways of making sense of embodied experiences.

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