Dr Jamie Hakim
Jamie Hakim’s latest research connects the recent rise in male gym selfies to living in austerity Britain.
This research began at the end of 2013, when I began to notice a marked increase in the amount of young men sharing gym selfies in my social media newsfeeds. Inspired by the ground-breaking media and cultural studies scholarship that explored the significance of the male body in contemporary culture, I was interested in what lay behind this new way of mediating the male body.
In doing this research I made some interesting discoveries:
- According to the Active People Survey, one of the largest rises in participation in any type of sports among a particular demographic, between 2008 and 2014, was 16- to 25-year-old men going to the gym.
- In 2009, Men’s Health magazine became the bestselling title in the men’s magazine market, shifting nearly twice as many print editions as its nearest competitor, GQ.
- In 2014, sports nutrition products also increased their supermarket sales by 40 per cent.
- In the same year cultural commentator Mark Simpson coined the term “spornosexual” as a portmanteau of "sports", "porn" and "metrosexual" to describe men who shared eroticised images of their gym-fit bodies across social media.
What was becoming clear was that since around 2008, significant numbers of British men had started to pay attention to their bodies in ways more historically associated with women i.e. to diet and exercise in an attempt to become sexually attractive. Why might this be?
Cultural studies has long argued that one of the principle ways that power has been distributed amongst social groups is through the absolute distinction, influentially made by philosopher Rene Descartes, between the mind and the body. Social groups associated with the mind (primarily white, middle class, heterosexual men) have been understood in contemporary culture to be dominant to those groups associated with their body (women, the working class, LGBTIQ etc). What had happened since 2008 that had meant that white middle class heterosexual men had started to pay attention to their bodies in ways we more commonly associate with more oppressed social groups?
After interviewing some men who went to the gym and shared images of their worked out bodies on social media, what became clear was that these activities were making them feel valuable during an historical moment when the effects of a post-recession austerity economy had begun to limit the traditional ways that they, as men, could rely on to feel valuable.
A secure job, a house, the ability to provide for your family and buy flashy consumer goods: all this used to signify successful masculinity. For some men, their worked out bodies and Instagram likes now stood in their stead.
What was particularly revealing about the interviews was how hard these men laboured to achieve their bodies and maintain their social media ‘brand’ and how little they felt they received in return.
In the words of one of the men I spoke to none of it “equates to anything really for the future, for building yourself as a person, or obtaining a house or a car or clothes or any sort of lifestyle”. Yet they keep on doing it because it is one of the few ways, during austerity, these young men can feel valuable at all.
Ultimately what I think my research into the ‘spornosexual’ phenomenon reveals, is what it feels like to live during the historical moment of austerity, when the means of creating value are becoming more out of reach - even for the relatively privileged.
There are a number of new ways that the male body is being used in relation to digital media that I believe are equally revealing about what it feels like to live in the present historical moment. The next stage of my research is to explore these. These include the recent rise in the celebrity male nude ‘leak’ and the rise of ‘chemsex’ – where mean who have sex with men use smartphone hook up applications to organise group sex where certain recreational drugs are consumed.
- Hakim, J. (2020, forthcoming) The Male Body in Digital Culture. Rowman and Littlefield International: London
- Hakim, J. and Winch, A. (2016) ‘“I’m selling the dream really aren’t I?”: Sharing Fit Male Bodies on Social Networking Sites’ in McGillivray, D.,
- McPherson, G. and Carnicelli, S. (eds.) Digital Leisure Cultures: Critical Perspectives. London: Routledge.
- Hakim, J. (2016) ‘The Spornosexual: the affective contradictions of male body-work in neoliberal digital culture’. Journal of Gender Studies.
- Hakim, J. (2015) ‘”Fit is the new rich”: male embodiment in the age of austerity’ Soundings (61): 84-94
News articles about the research:
- Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3734948/Rise-spornosexual-Men-t-high-powered-jobs-financial-crisis-strive-buff-bodies-porn-sports-stars-appear-successful.html
- Metro: http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/12/quiz-are-you-dating-a-spornosexual-the-ultragroomed-men-on-the-rise-because-of-austerity-6062491/
- New York Post: http://nypost.com/2016/08/11/weak-economy-is-responsible-for-rampant-swoleness-study/
- Broadly: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/when-the-economy-is-weak-men-get-swole-study-claims