I Am (More than) My Body: Reflexively Embodying and Resisting the Gay Male Adonis Complex
Pettis, Philip Justin
Gay men in contemporary Western societies invest a considerable amount of time and energy into their physical appearance. Both scholars and popular press attribute this to gay male culture's heightened emphasis on physical appearance and attractiveness. Drawing on Nick Crossley’s concept of ‘reflexive embodiment,’ I examine how 64 gay men from diverse ages and ethnoracial backgrounds reflect and act upon their bodies, so to modify and maintain them in response to sociocultural influences (e.g., gay male culture and gay male peers). The results indicate a variety of cultural media that promote a particular body image ideal salient in gay male culture, characterized by a lean, muscular, attractive male body influence gay men’s body image ideals and pursuits. However, participants are also critical of these images and note the raced and aged notions of desirability promoted by these images. Although gay male peers influence gay men’s desires to achieve an ideal body image, they also provide support for resisting these body image ideals. This is especially true for ethnoracial minorities who do not find themselves represented in mainstream gay male culture. Findings also reveal as men moved across the life course, they are able to resist body image ideals represented in gay male culture and engage in fewer practices of body modification. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.