The relationship with my body, over twenty-seven years living in it, has consisted of fluid periods between affinity and alienation. There are certain stereotypes and colloquialisms I’ve overheard in my life and have been habituated to by media/societal tropes, which offer glimpses into how bodies are perceived broadly, that still underprepared me for daily existence within my body. I also think there is information out there we do not listen to, or can understand at the time it is given; for example, the warnings and guidance from older family members relating to aging and familial specific bodily developments was never believed, accepted, or reasoned with by me, until after the time that information would have been a comfort or useful had passed. There are privileges in having a known and living history of bodies to confer with that share your genetic make-up, and conversely, isolation/challenges to face when you do not have signposts to guide your experience (and other various intersectional affinities to identifying with our own lived experiences).
Simple biological effects of aging and health are not the only sites of concern in describing one’s lived bodily experiences, as Sarah Grogan’s book, Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women, and Children (2008) discusses: social class, ethnicity, sexuality, and perceived ‘fitness’ all influence our experiences in and of the flesh (136). In a sense, all the bodily intersections Grogan highlights in this chapter have to do with ‘visibility politics’ if you will—or relations between Power, Truth, and Knowledge, citing Focaultian conceptions between Power and Knowledges, and his genealogies around the history of Discipline and Power to bodies in western societies since the seventeenth/eighteenth-centuries (1995; 1980). Meaning, the conditions that led to the attainment of power and its continued existence, or ‘Power constructions,’ will be produced and reproduced by power, through: media ideals, pop culture, racism & imperialism, patriarchy & sexism, hetero-centrism and homophobia, gender binaries, and capitalism, reflecting what ideals ‘Power’ wants to perpetuate, delegitimize, discipline, or nurture (Foucault 1980).
Exemplifying this relationship is Grogan’s assertion that “[e]xternal “fitness” can reassure the fearful both within and outside [the gay community] that the [gay man (and his behavior)] does not represent a risk” (184). By simply interchanging one’s personal communities into the quoted brackets, or by changing: [‘the gay community’] for, “society at large” and [gay man], for “individual (and ‘their’ behavior/being),” and finally adding to the end of the author’s sentence: to the larger societal/body politic, the utility of this statement becomes clearer. While I identify as a gay man (and as so, this quote particularly spoke to me), I think it is applicable to larger issues involving body representations and experiences, in at least western societies (though the classifications and ideals to one society could most likely be substituted and I suspect similar methods of inquiry and evidence would emerge), mainly that the ‘ideal; body in a cultural discourse probably represents a ‘safe’ body.
The ‘safe’ body to a society is nonthreatening, so most likely non-visible, or so hyper-visible through homogenization or invisibility through uni-/conformity, to power’s favored ideal. Relating the quote to the gay community again, the safe body would also be “Drug and Disease Free” (DDF). The safe body would be ‘healthy’ in actuality and exhibit external fitness markers on the body itself, denoting perceived physical fitness and ‘virility,’ as health in a culture. In our American culture, the white-hetero-centered masculine and idealized male body is perceived the epitome of ‘safe’ body in this culture, using ‘safe’ to mean culturally attributed ‘health and normalization’ practices, which all other bodies are judged in contrast to.
My research interests (masculinities & feminisms, the humanities, and queer theory) stems from my relationship to my body. Grogan’s work discussing young boys body image and gay men’s particularly conforms to the relationship I have had with my body (142, 181). I know the two are not seen the same, as perceived obeseness seems to be lowest in hierarchy, than slenderness, and finally muscularity and thinness together is at the top if one presents as male, but Gorgon’s quote, “Plump and skinny boys are perceived negatively,” has been a chief concern of mine in combating how people almost erase/invalidate how slender boys/men are marginalized through thinness alone, especially when combined with feminine presenting men or queer bodies, as thinness is engendered feminine in our society (142).
Parts of Grogan’s asides into the lack of research done on boy’s body image compared to girls riled me up, though key things jumped out, like the first boy saying his ideal body at age twenty is “Hulk Hogan” (Grogan 141). Pro-Wrestling is a historic site of masculinity and body image for boys, especially in America (of which it is marketed everywhere). The limitations within women’s studies in writing about this topic and its relations to childhood, body image, sexuality, and masculinity specifically, etc., is a reason I focus on it as a topic of my research. Their reach into licensing, the toy market, and media representation is beyond, in my opinion, to the reach of ‘legitimized’ professional sport practices. Central to the concern feminist activists have held over the last forty years concerning the feminine body, masculinity studies should similarly be critical of male-bodily representations reaching our youth, in television, film, and video games; Gorgon contextualizes this imperative, “these 8-year-old boys shared body shape ideals with teenagers and young men in their early twenties … [who were] television and movie celebrities” (142).
NW is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, and a minor in studio arts from ODU with concentrations in art history, graphic design, and linguistics. In his scholarship, he is interested in body, gender, sex, and sexuality studies — focusing on the masculine body — as applied to American media and cultural studies. Nathan has interests in digital humanities scholarship, and loves good puns.