young men gym
Young men increasingly go to the gym to look good and not only for fitness iStock

In a world where austerity is affecting the lives of many young adults, men are increasingly using their bodies as a means of feeling valuable in society, a scientist has discovered. Since the economic crisis in 2008, there has been a rise in young British men sharing images of their pumped-up physiques on social media platforms as a way to get recognition from their peers.

The study, published in the Journal of Gender Studies, argues that young men – who are traditionally seen as the breadwinners – have seen this role being compromised in the wake of the economic crisis.

This has prompted them to develop a new form of value creation through their bodies, one that has traditionally been associated with women.

Jamie Hakim, the author from the University of East Anglia, uses the term 'spornosexuality' to describe this development – a contraction of 'sports star' and 'porn star' describing the rise of men attending the gym primarily for reasons of vanity. He argues that this is men compensating for the harshness of the economic climate.

More athletic and technology-savvy

The study first draws on a range of surveys recently conducted in the UK. For instance, figures from Sport England that showed a significant year-on-year increase in the amount of 16 to 25-year-old men attending the gym between 2006 and 2013. Additional data suggests that young men have become increasingly adept at building a social media brand based around their honed bodies, and are very knowledgeable when it comes to marketing themselves through social media.

"The rise of men going to the gym and sharing images of their worked-out bodies began around 2008, coinciding with the intensification of neoliberalism that occurred in response to the 2008 economic crash and the following austerity measures. This is no coincidence", Hakim explains.

"They pursue these fitness goals because the joys of accumulating spornosexual capital are one of the few remaining for young men in Britain's post-crisis austerity economy. This is an embodied and mediated response to the precarious feelings produced by neoliberal austerity".

This is all the more surprising because this use of body-image to derive social value has long been associated with groups men tended to be viewed as inferior. "One of the most interesting aspects of this development is the power-shift of a segment of society who have historically defined themselves through their mind, whilst at the same time defining those they have subordinated - such as women - through their bodies", Hakim points out.

The study concludes that young men are conscious of their own efforts to look good on social media and often mentioned the effect of austerity behind their decision to devote more time to the gym.