Loughborough University
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Rugby union men: body concerns

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posted on 2012-07-18, 11:29 authored by Natalie Darko
Existing research shows that increasing numbers of young men are dissatisfied with the appearance of their bodies. Research has found that men will use sport and health-related sports acts to conceal these concerns from others. Accordingly, men s body dissatisfactions are documented less frequently because the practices drawn upon to conceal them are perceived as routine forms of masculine behaviour. Rugby union is one of the most popular sports played by young men in England. Historically, the male rugby player is culturally perceived as strong, tough and unemotionally articulate. Existing research draws attention to health issues, such as performance stress and injury that arise through participation in this sport. Research also shows that rugby union players are likely to experience concerns about gaining weight, yet these are disguised within the requirements of training for the sport. Although, there are studies that examine the constitution of masculinities, the experience of pain and injury and career transitions among rugby union players there are no studies, as yet, that examine how rugby union men experience body concerns and manage these experiences through their sport. The research discussed in this thesis examines how a group of rugby union men (25) aged 18-25, of varied racial identity, ethnic and social backgrounds, participating in an elite university rugby union 1st XV team, experience concerns about the appearance and performance of their bodies and the ways in which such concerns develop. It also examines if and how these men used the sport and health-related sports acts, to overcome their concerns and conceal them from others. A theoretical framework, which draws on the concepts of the three theorists: Connell (1995, 2008) Goffman (1959; 1961; 1979) and Bourdieu (1978; 1979; 1984), is developed. As part of this, a new concept has been created from Goffman s dramaturgical approach: that of the intimate dimension. In this dimension intimate relationships occur. It is located away from the front region, (the public), and the back region (semi-public spaces) where less formal relationships occur. It includes the research interview, with a woman researcher, and some other women such as girlfriends, sisters or female friends and also one or two other rugby men with whom the rugby men demonstrated a close bond. Within this dimension the rugby men are more forthcoming about the personal elements of their rugby lives. The theoretical framework is used to examine these men s concerns, how they are developed, experienced and managed. Recognising that cultural assumptions of a tough and less expressive masculinity assigned to this sport can potentially make it difficult for men to express these concerns, a combination of visual research methods and ethnography are used to examine these men s body concerns and their management. This includes collaborative collection of photography and photo-elicitation interviews. The research shows that embodied experiences of discomfort, associated with pain, injury, concerns about height, being overweight or out of shape, and social experiences of exclusion led to the development of the rugby men s body concerns. For these rugby men, their rugby masculinities are influential to the management and concealment of their body concerns. They suppress and conceal their body concerns in the front and back regions of the sport and reveal them in more intimate dimensions. The rugby men s relationships with each other, in the back regions of the sport, were the most influential to this identity, but more importantly, to the management and reinforcement of these concerns. This thesis contributes to filling the gap in existing academic research by examining body concerns and its management amongst rugby union men. It also extends existing research that has found men conceal their body concerns in sport, because it looks at how these men manage these concerns differently in different regions of their sport. Furthermore, a theoretical framework that combines interactionism and phenomenology is used to study sociologically men s body concerns in these different contexts. The combination of visual methods and ethnography goes beyond some of the existing methods used in clinical and sociological research that have examined men's body concerns. They can be used to enhance understanding of clinical forms of body concern and other emotional concerns rugby union men and other sportsmen, of all ages, have about performance, pain and injury. The incorporation of visual methods is potentially widely applicable because they have increasing precedence in sportsmen s lives to analyse performance and to represent them. .



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Natalie Darko

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en