“Shaping up”: The relationship between traditional masculinity, conflict resolution and body image among adolescent boys in South Africa
In South Africa, traditional versions of masculinity that once bestowed power and privilege onto white heterosexual men are being contested. White adolescent males must negotiate this changing environment at a time when they themselves are engaging in the process of identity development. Given the recent emergence of the masculine body ideal, the muscular mesomorph, and its association with traditional masculinity, this study sought to examine the relationship between traditional masculinity, conflict resolution and body image among a sample of predominantly white adolescent males in South Africa. The relationships between these variables were examined in accordance with Connell’s theory of body-reflexive practices (1995), which views the body as both an “object” and “agent” of practice. Our findings revealed that support for traditional masculine norms among adolescent males was associated with the desire for a larger, more muscular body and the use of maladaptive conflict resolution styles that exhibit a low concern for the welfare of others. In the context of recent sociocultural changes, these findings suggest that conflict resolution and the redefinition of the male body may be an emerging arena that provides new possibilities for young white males to enact a form of male power that is seen to be maladaptive in our context.