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Atkinson is with Sport and Exercise Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK.
Sociology of Sport Journal, 2007, 24, 165-186
2007 Human Kinetics, Inc.
Playing With Fire: Masculinity, Health,
and Sports Supplements
Michael Atkinson
Loughborough University
Canadian men ock to gyms to enlarge, reshape, and sculpt their bodies. Fitness
centers, health-food stores, muscle magazines, and Internet sites prot by aggres-
sively selling sports supplements to a wide range of exercising men. Once
associated with only the hardcore factions of male bodybuilders (Klein, 1995),
designer protein powders, creatine products, energy bars, ephedrine, amino acids,
diuretics, and growth hormones such as androstenedione are generically marketed
to men as health and lifestyle-improving aids. This paper explores how a select
group of Canadian men connect the consumption of sports supplements to the
pursuit of established masculinity. I collected ethnographic data from 57 recre-
ational athletes in Canada and interpreted the data through the lens of gurational
sociology. Analytic attention is thus given to how contemporary discourses and
practices of supplementation are underscored by middle-class understandings of
masculine bodies in a time of perceived gender crisis in Canada.
Les hommes canadiens se ruent vers les gymnases pour dvelopper et sculpter
leurs corps. Les centres de conditionnement physique, les magasins daliments-
sant, les revues de musculation et les sites Internet en protent en leur vendant
agressivement des supplments sportifs . Autrefois associs aux factions dures
du culturisme masculin (Klein, 1995), les poudres protines, les produits de la
cratine, les barres nergtiques, lphdrine, les acides amins, les diurtiques
et les hormones de croissance sont maintenant vendus aux hommes en tant que
produits amliorant la sant et le style de vie. Cet article explore comment un
groupe slect dhommes lient la consommation de supplments sportifs la qute
dune masculinit tablie . Jai collig des donnes ethnographiques auprs
de 57 athltes de niveau rcratif au Canada et les ai interprtes la lumire
de la sociologie gurative. Analytiquement, je me suis intress la faon dont
les discours contemporains et lutilisation des supplments sont associs une
comprhension petite bourgeoise des corps masculins au moment dune crise
des genres au Canada.
166 Atkinson
The Rise of Sports Supplementation
The sports supplementation industry is currently booming in Canada. Estimated
annual sales of sports supplements, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,
were approximately $1 billion in 2005 (www.agr.gc.ca). Legal, over-the-counter
products like creatine, whey protein, thermogenic fat burners, and human growth
hormone enhancers are now ubiquitous across Canadian marketplacessold
anywhere from grocery stores to school cafeterias to petrol stations. While some
ready to eat products, such as protein bars, are rather inexpensive (ranging from
$2 to $5 for a single servingvery similar to price points of other fast foods),
others are considerably more expensive (ranging in price from $75 to $100 for a
weekly or monthly dosage). Sports supplements were once the esoteric dietary
staples of elite-level athletes or competitive bodybuilders but have emerged as
accessible for those seeking to lose weight and/or gain muscle or for those simply
wishing to look healthier.
The ostensible link between supplementation and the desire to appear outwardly
healthy is understandable given contemporary cultural conditions in Canada. The
boom in supplementation sales is occurring at a time when more Canadians than
in any other historical era are diagnosed as obese, believed to be confronting health
crises, and afraid of disease (Pronger, 2002). Monaghan (2002) noted the recent
promulgation of physical regimes of control (such as bodybuilding) that have
emerged in the middle class as a response to a fear of the epidemics. White,
Young, and Gillett (1995) similarly outlined the current moral imperative to appear
t and healthy within a crisis of physical decay in Western cultures. Indeed, the
dramaturgical performance of identity remains closely tied to physical discipline,
especially as that work pertains to food consumption and the display of healthy,
t, toned, and contained bodies.
The public use of sports supplements is vastly under-studied by academic
researchers or food and drug regulators in Canadian sports cultures. A series of
media scares and moral panics regarding the presence of high doses of ephedrine
in certain sports-supplement products during the early 2000sparticularly follow-
ing the mysterious on-eld deaths of American football player Corey Stringer and
American baseball player Steve Belchercalled sociological and popular cultural
attention to the dangers of sports supplements. Despite a momentary concern over
the contents of sports-related weight gain or loss supplements, the supplement pro-
duction and distribution industries are once again relatively unfettered in Canada.
The subject of supplementation has also remained off of the proverbial sociological
radar screen despite the ever-expanding literature on drugs, medicine, and cultures
of precaution in the literature (Safai, 2003).
Sociologically speaking, very little is known about the noncompetitive, rec-
reational athletes consumptive networks of legal supplement use in Canada or
how users give dietary or health aids meaning. Social scientists have heretofore
overlooked the process of sports supplementation as a legitimate area of inquiry,
despite emergent concerns about and research on the popularity of steroids and
illegal supplements in exercise cultures (Monaghan, 2002), epidemics of body
dysmorphic disorder and pathological eating behaviors among young boys (Pope,
Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000), and investigative media analyses of loose regula-
tion in the sports supplement industry (Corbett, 2003). A lexicon of kinesiological
Playing With Fire 167
research documenting the impact of sports supplements on athletic performance and
highlighting the popularity of supplementation (Pipe & Ayotte, 2002) might also
encourage sociologists of sport to study the social aspects of supplementation.
What researchers presently understand about the social dynamics of legal
sports supplementation is, for all intents and purposes, rather cursory. The primary
consumers of the sports supplements are men, especially young men ages 16 to 30
(estimated as consumers of 80% of supplements sold in North America). We believe
the most popular over-the-counter, legal supplements are creatine and whey protein,
and that supplementation cuts across class, ethnic, religious, and sexual preference
categories (Metzl, Levine, & Gershel, 2001). Yet, as clinical psychologists argued,
the primary consumers are young, White males in the middle class (Cafri et al.,
2005; Pope et al., 2000). The extant literature on the medical use of sports
supplements reveals an overrepresentation of White, middle-class, and urban males
as the primary consumers of the legal supplements. However, beyond a litany
of preliminary descriptive statistics, social scientists know incredibly little about
the sports supplementation process or the meanings attributed to supplementation
within athlete cultures (Metzl et al., 2001).
I explore the sports supplementation process within a core group of White,
male, middle-class, recreational athletes/bodybuilders in southern Ontario, Canada.
Importantly, men who consume illegal supplements are not included in this research.
The term supplements is used in this paper, then, in reference to performance
enhancers sold commercially and legally in the province of Ontario, Canada. The
mens supplementation processes are analytically linked to shifting social construc-
tions of masculinity in the Canadian middle class and the degree to which a body
modication practice such as supplementation is potentially dialogical with the
changing roles, statuses, and identities of White, Canadian, middle-class men. The
increased degree to which the men are supplementing is argued to be a product
of what Elias (2002) referred to as a psychogenic change in their personality
structures. Such psychogenic change is occurring concomitantly with sociogenic
change in Canada, including pronounced alterations to work, educational, political,
and economic practices that affect broader ideological interpretations of masculin-
ity in the middle class.
Theoretical Underpinnings
Figurational sociology (Elias, 2002; Dunning, 1999) serves as the analyti-
cal framework for this article. This enabled me to decode how and why men are
performing gender in public via sports-related bodywork and the social contexts
within which middle-class, masculine body presentation in performed and negoti-
ated as healthy.
First, we may draw on Eliass (2002) notion of a guration to highlight that
sports supplementation occurs as a social process within groups of interdependent
actors. Elias described a guration as a complex web of social relationships based
on individual and group interdependencies, such as a family, a school, a workplace,
a community, an economy, or a political sphere (p. 208). He used the term in lieu
of traditional concepts, such as society, institution, subculture, and other terms
connoting human action as statically structured rather than processual. Elias
168 Atkinson
suggested that individuals activities are best understood as products of mutual
(but not necessarily equal) relationships:
The network of interdependencies among human beings is what binds them
together. Such interdependencies are the nexus of what is here called the gu-
ration, a structure of mutually oriented and dependent people. Since people
are more or less dependent on each other, rst by nature and then by social
learning, through education, socialization, and socially generated reciprocal
needs, they exist, one might venture to say, only as pluralities, only in gura-
tions. (p.214)
Eliass (2002) study of long-term civilizing processes consisted of an
extended exposition of sociogenesis and broad-scale gurational dynamics.
Sociogenesis refers to the ongoing and uid structuring of relationships of inter-
dependence among groups of people and how social structuring processes are the
organizational patterns of social life. Figurational sociologists commence research
on forms of body behavior, supplementation for example, by analyzing how body-
modication ideologies are formed and transformed through ongoing sociogenic
processes (Mennell, 1992; Salumets, 2001).
Analyses of masculinity and the politics of masculine display might include an
investigation of how sociogenic change in Canada alters mens sensibilities about
modifying their bodies in an athletic manner. Research on the contemporary
politics of middle-class masculinity in North America has linked a wide scope
of mens body projects to a series of sociogenic changes (Connell, 2002, 2005).
Atkinson (2003) argued that middle-class White men in particular have vocalized
a perceived sense of doubt regarding their ownership over, or ability to exercise,
hegemonic masculinity in Canada. The men Atkinson studied feel as if their posi-
tion, for instance, as hegemonically dominant in familial clusters, economic work
structures, educational streams, and political ofces, has been ostensibly challenged
by gender-, race-, and sexual-lifestyle-rights movements. The same men express
concerns over legislation securing equality across a range of social contexts and
patterns in media representations that objectify male bodies (Nathanson & Young,
2001). Research on sports supplementation among middle-class men might explore
if and how perceived fragmentation or fractures in power balances between the
sexes; genders; or ethnic, political, work, or religious groups have affected mens
corporeal practices as suggested.
Figurational sociologists also underscore how studies of sociogenic change
should include the examination of psychogenesis, or the development of personal-
ity structures within specic, historically contextualized gurations (Elias, 1991,
1996). A dominant principle running across gurational explanations of social
behavior is a belief that individual and collective personality structures are largely
products of social interaction within situated environments and reective of socio-
genic trends over long-term historical periods (Dunning, 1999).
Eliass (1978, 2002) analysis of the body as a text of sociogenic and psycho-
genic change presented how shifts in cultural orientations toward the body and
its display are ultimately products of social interdependencies between people
(Kemple, 2001). Integrated analyses of sociogenesis, pyschogenesis, and social
interdependence lead to more nuanced understandings of how social, cultural, and
biological factors interweave:
Playing With Fire 169
The structures of the human psyche, the structures of human society, and the
structures of human history are indissolubly complementary and can only be
studied in conjunction with each other. They do not exist and move in reality
with the degree of isolation assumed by current research. They form, with other
structures, the subject matter of a single human science. (Elias, 1991, p. 36)
Therefore, social scientists should analyze the tissues of interdependency con-
necting individuals in social gurations (e.g., family, school, peers, leisure, and
work relations) and the anticipated or unanticipated impact of these connections
on personality structures. Van Krieken captured the importance of simultaneously
studying interdependency, gurations, sociogenesis, and psychogenesis:
The structure of human life could only be understood if human beings were
conceptualized as interdependent rather than autonomous, comprising what
he [Elias] calls gurations rather than social systems or structures, and as
characterized by socially specic forms of habitus, or personality-structure.
He emphasized seeing human beings in the plural rather than the singular,
as part of collectivities, of groups and networks, and stressed that their very
identity as unique individuals only existed within and through those networks
of gurations. (1998, p. 55)
The process of decoding the current practice of sports supplementation
among the men in the current study, then, commenced by contextualizing supple-
ment consumption within sociogenic, psychogenic, and social interdependence
frameworks. Simpson (1999), for example, predicted that with the sociogenic
queering of urban, male body style and aesthetics, afuent straight men would
feel psychogenic pressure to respond by prettying their bodies. Sociologists of
the body such as Featherstone (2000) have contended that middle-class men, in
particular, are exposed to persistent and diffuse consumer-oriented sensibilities that
encourage body commodication and aesthetic renement. Baumanns (2000) state-
ment on the rise of individuality and cultural fragmentation in the West similarly
underscored how dominant clusters of consumers (such as White, middle-class,
heterosexual males) respond to sociogenic trends of individualization in the
marketplace through radical embodiment projects. Niedzviecki (2004) argued that
ideologies of individuality among the Canadian middle class form into cultural
practices where the pursuit of physical difference becomes an act of avant-garde
bourgeois conformity.
Campos (2004) described the sociodemographic shift in North America to
an obesity culture and the emergent cultural and moral concerns about health and
obesity as an outcome of middle-class consumption guilt. He identied men in the
middle class as primary interpreters and deners of contemporary body problems,
such as obesity, and maintained that weight-loss strategies among the group reect
a common anxiety about their lifestyles of conspicuous consumption. The increased
amount of sports-supplement products sold, one could argue, is an indirect measure
of such bourgeois guilt. Sociologists of masculinity, including Connell (2005), also
cited blurring denitions of the sexually acceptable, male body style as a precursor
to the recent explosion in commercially sold mens products. Researchers on
both sides of the Atlantic suggest that young generations of middle-class mena
veritable new lad culturebring to the cultural table a set of learned attitudes
170 Atkinson
about what constitutes established or dominant masculinity in the new millennium
(Labre, 2002; Whitehead, 2002). In reection, the apparent change in some White,
middle-class mens perceptions about acceptable bodywork perhaps suggests a shift
in their shared cultural habituses.
Elias (1991, 1996) described individual and cultural personality structures as
socially learned second natures, or habituses, and suggested that through ongoing
sociogenic or socialization processes, individuals learn taken-for-granted ways (i.e.,
habits) of experiencing, using, and interpreting their bodies. Eliass (1996, 2002)
description of the habitus-formation process described how learned conceptions
of corporeality are embedded in everyday physical habits such as wearing cloth-
ing, eating behaviors, sexual displays, the expression of emotion, and of course,
body modication:
The make-up, the social habitus of individuals, forms as it were, the soil from
which grow the personal characteristics through which an individual differs
from other members of his society. In this way something grows out of the
common language which the individual shares with others and which is cer-
tainly a component of his social habitusa more or less individual style, what
might be called an unmistakable individual handwriting that grows out of the
social script. (Elias, 1991, p. 63)
A central problem structuring my research on sports supplementation among
(a narrow group of) Canadian men is whether their learned habituses prepare
them for product consumption and help frame the meaning structures they attribute
to both masculine and supplemented bodies.
The use of sports supplements among a sample of White, middle-class men
is highlighted in the remainder of this paper as a signier of both sociogenic and
psychogenic change in Canada. I argue that sociogenic and psychogenic shifts in
Canadian culture described previously have culminated into a crisis of masculin-
ity among the men for whom sports supplementation is one response. The study
of these mens narratives about their lived experiences with sports supplements
allows for a micrological inspection of what has been termed the North American
crisis of masculinity. Critical attention is given to how men included in the
sample turn to their bodies as principal sites of identity work, health promotion,
and power negotiation during a cultural time wherein they believe established,
middle-class, masculine roles and privileges are being challenged in Canada. These
men strategically employ sports supplements and attach both classed and gendered
ideologies to them.
Method
Data for this article were gathered as part of an ethnographic study of
masculinity and exercise supplementation in Canada. Although there exists a
rather full literature on the use of steroids in athletic cultures in North America
and elsewhere (see Philips, 2004; Spriet & Gibala, 2004), theorists have not
empirically addressed nonelite-level athletes embodied interpretations of the sports
supplementation process. The current study, by tapping core tenets of gurational
sociology as a conceptual frame, is a directed exploration (Stebbins, 1996)
Playing With Fire 171
of masculinity, health, and sports supplementation among nonelite athletes and
recreational bodybuilders.
Data collection commenced through my personal involvement as a weight
trainer in two local gyms in Hamilton, Ontario: one, a private club with a closed
membership, and the other, a pay-per-entry public gym. The study also builds on my
personal knowledge of, and experience with, sports supplements as a long-term (12-
year) user and as an endurance athlete (i.e., marathon, duathlon, and triathlon).
I encountered a regular supplement user named Jimmy at a private tness
club in 2003. Jimmy divulged his own experimentation with both creatine and
whey powders during the middle of a workout one day. Following an extended
conversation with him regarding supplement use, he disclosed a history of consistent
sports supplementation of nearly 10 years. I had been studying the representation of
sports supplements in mens health magazines at the time of our conversation and
started to consider an ethnography on supplementation among the gym members.
After our talk, I contemplated the possibility of an extended ethnographic project
on the subject. I interviewed Jimmy about his experiences with this esh journey
(Atkinson & Young, 1999) in the autumn of 2003 and sought out additional users
in the southern Ontario area (i.e., Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, and Burlington)
for similar exploratory interviews.
The snowball or chain referral technique common in qualitative research
became the main method of sampling. Jimmy offered a dozen names of friends in
the city of Hamilton at the time of his interview. Each of these respondents provided
the names of, on average, 3 other supplement users and the sample progressively
expanded. I eventually interviewed 57 supplement users in southern Ontario with
the aid of Jimmys sponsorship. I knew that nding men for the study would be
straightforward, based on my experience in gym cultures, especially in the south-
ern Ontario region. With a population exceeding 4 million and booming tness
industries, the number of supplement users in the southern Ontario regionwhile
difcult to calculate with any measure of precisionprovides a readily available
pool of subjects.
Among the emergent cadre of supplement users are the men interviewed in
the present study. It is important to note that the sample, due to the chain-referral
technique employed, formed into a relatively homogeneous group along class,
sexual preference, religious, and ethnic lines. Men in this sociodemographic were
ideal respondents for the study, however, given the theoretical drivers guiding the
research.
The men interviewed range in age from 19 to 45 (a mean of 26), a majority
were single (51%), middle-class (75%) with a mean income of approximately
CDN$51,000. They share Anglo-Saxon heritages (90%) and heterosexual prefer-
ences (80%). Their levels of education varied, with some still in university (46%),
but most were completely out of the educational system (54%) at the time of
interview. Experience with sports supplementation varied slightly, with most of
the men using one or two supplements on a weekly basis (70%), while the others
volume of consumption ranged from 5 to 10 supplements daily (30%). The most
frequently consumed supplements included creatine, whey protein, thermogenics,
human growth hormone, and testosterone enhancers. None of the men actively
used anabolic steroids during the time of the study.
172 Atkinson
Interviews were conducted in a variety of settings, such as my ofce at the
university, a coffee shop, a local park, or a restaurant. I used a tape recorder during
the interviews, and eld notes were taken both during and after the interviews. Notes
were then (within several hours, or at maximum, one day) transcribed onto computer
les and lled in considerably as I conceptually analyzed the texts. Interviewees
were given an explanation of informed consent before and after each interview.
Interviews ranged in length from 45 minutes to 3 hours. All of the participants were
interviewed once and (with the exception of nine) were shown transcripts of the
interview sessions at a later date so that they might review their own narratives.
Pseudonyms are employed in this paper to protect the participants identities.
I practiced a style of active interviewing (Gubrium & Holstein, 1997) with
the men in order to examine the social meaning of supplementation for them.
During an active interview, attention is given to how researchers might use specic
rhetorical techniques, including semidirected (i.e., open-ended) questioning, to tap
into a range of individuals narrative resourcesor simply, their ways of perceiving
and describing personal experiences based on the statuses and associated roles they
possess (Gubrium & Holstein). As an active solicitation technique, I highlighted
my own insider status as a user in order to encourage participation and deeper
conversation in interviews. I also emphasized a need of insiders perspectives
to help understand how men experience supplementation as a social process of
health improvement and gendered bodywork. A detailed analysis of how men in
the sample mobilize a combination of class and gender interpretive resources to
understand and tell stories about their own supplementation practices is the focus
of the remainder of this paper.
Fear, Anxiety, and Supplementation
The extant literature on male athletes evidences how the intensity of and com-
mitment to exercise regimens are collectively linked to an achieved masculinity (see
Monaghan, 2002). White and Young (1999) referred to athletes hypercommitment
to intense and often unforgiving male body codes in sport as the pursuit of dan-
gerous masculinity. Evidence from the current study of supplementation indeed
suggests a slightly dangerous masculine mindset among the men interviewed.
From the narratives collected in the research, it is evident that the men engage a
series of calculated risks with their bodies through sports supplementation in order
to achieve an ideal-type body image. The construction of the ideal-type masculine
body is of course historically and contextually contingent, but the men in the cur-
rent sample described a desirable masculine body as one which is lean, muscular,
powerful, free from blemish yet rugged, and sexually attractive. The supplement
users take dietary risksthe ingestion of chemical or natural products intended
to radically alter the bodys fat or muscular compositionas one step in the pursuit
of the ideal. Their sports supplementation regimens are clearly reective of a do
whatever it takes sensibility for achieving the image. Cliff, a 21-year-old supple-
ment user (e.g., creatine, glutamine, and whey protein), suggests:
I dunno, I take what I take because I wasnt born with the right gifts. . . . Im
not trying to get jacked [muscular], but I want to look strong and be strong,
right. Dieting and hard work gets you so far, and then you need an edge to
Playing With Fire 173
make gains. . . . Thats what its about to me, self-improvement and progress.
I spend tons of money on supplements, but its worth it. . . . Ill never be puny
again. No one looks at a puny guy, and says, Wow, hes hot; he looks like
someone I want to know. I want people to like me for how I look.
Cliff teaches us that his construction of masculine health and vibrancy par-
tially revolves around the physical images of strength, risk-taking, and conspicu-
ous consumption as Connell (2005) documented. His lifestyle of consumption is
indeed congruent with masculine gains in the gym and the work-like lengths
and sacrices he will initiate to be his physical best. He expresses a stereotypical
middle-class male mindset, or habitus, evident in most of the narratives about
supplementation collected in the current research.
Pope, Phillips, and Olivardias (2000) watershed analysis of the Adonis
Complex revealed that young males like Cliff link muscularity, drug use, mascu-
linity, and social desirability. Other clinical psychological investigations of body
dissatisfaction among bodybuilders in the United States and the United Kingdom
equally underscore how the pursuit of a culturally preferred male body shape (i.e.,
hypertrophic yet lean) is facilitated by steroid and other supplement consumption
(Cafri et al., 2005; Grogan, Shepherd, Evans, Wright, & Hunter, 2006). When
explaining why they consume supplements, men in the current study described a
sense of physical and social lacking; they sought out body modication through
supplementation as a remedy. Cliffs narrative, for example, contains expressions
of personal doubt, insecurity, and a perceived lack of social power and controla
fear of being small and unt, of not having the right look, or not working hard
enough. A central question emerging out of his and others narratives is: Why do
men like Cliff fear in these ways? The commonality of expressed fears within the
narratives gathered through this research points to both class- and gender-related
anxieties among the men.
To explore the fearsupplementationmasculinity link further, I draw on
gurational sociology. Brinkgreves (2004) poignant analysis of the gendering
of power in Western gurations argued that (White, middle-class) mens panoply
of social control source has been challenged along a number of lines, especially
mens collective ability to wield overt dominance as cultural practice. She stressed
that mens agency for expressing aggressive affect, among other sources of social
power, has been curtailed over the course of long-term civilizing processes. In the
current study, Peter, a 27-year-old marketing expert who consumes ve different
types of supplements to recover from his aggressive workouts, noted:
My life is really boring outside of the gym. There, I yell and scream and punch
a heavy bag until I drop. No one will see me as a brute or comment about me
being a caveman, or charge me for being interpersonally harassing. Its weird
to think that a naturally male [big] body in action is not natural any more, or
that I have to hide away in a gym and take out my frustrations on a piece of
equipment.
Indeed, as Maguire (1999) commented, while expressions of aggression among
men have in no way been controlled, the internal compulsion toward and external
control of physical/emotional/psychological aggression has both qualitatively and
quantitatively morphed for men (especially in the middle-class) through civilizing
174 Atkinson
processes. Godenzi (1999) interpreted the Western civilizing attack on aggres-
sion as a challenge to the very foundation of established masculinity within social
gurations. Labre (2002) examined how groups of middle-class men perceive the
(external) restraint of generically male bodies as a critical condemnation of,
and control effort against, the very basis of the male psyche. These men perceive
that masculinity itself is now threatened diffusely through antiauthoritarian (read
antimale) doctrines and politically correct or neoliberal sensitivity policies
underwritten in social life. Canadian men in the middle class included in the pres-
ent study resultantly feel encouraged to engage in forms of bodywork to shore up
their traditionally masculine images in socially nonthreatening ways because
their work and family roles prohibit more aggressive responses. Supplementation
aids in the process of reclaiming a lost sense of masculinity:
Sure theres an attack on men in our culture. Are you kidding me? Have you
paid attention at all to life in the past 30 or so years? Everywhere you go there
are guys in anger management or sensitivity training classes at work whore
being fucking emasculated. . . . The only thing touchy-feely, corporate culture
cant take away from me is my body. Im not stupid, though, and understand
that the new guy is one who tones it down a bit and is put together but not
ridiculously so. I take supplements that help with building lean muscle and
maintaining lower water weight. (Alan, 31)
As Alan and like-minded peers in the sample explained, they locate substantial
social power by reclaiming their threatened social roles as men through forms
of bodybuilding and weight management. They clearly accept and promote culture
preferences for the t, toned, groomed, and nonaggressive body as a technique of
conforming empowerment in a time of anxiety for them.
As the research progress unfolded in this study, I further questioned the
sociogenic basis of their expressed anxiety about current cultural conditions for
men in their shared social station and its link to supplemented bodywork. Perhaps
without much surprise, the mens narratives regularly turned to issues of work,
power, and control.
The use of sports supplements as a cure for masculine anxiety in sports and
leisure cultures clearly has something to do with what sociologists call the medical-
ization of everyday life (Conrad & Schneider, 1981). More pharmaceutical products
than ever before are taken by people in Western cultures (Butcher, Schneider, &
Hong, 2005). Critser (2002) decoded the contemporary push to medicalize social
eating problems, sources of social stratication, and political anxieties as just one
instance of how individuals are encouraged to seek scientic solutions to collective
cultural problems (such as doubt about what constitutes acceptable masculinity).
Consuming pills, drugs, or medicinal remedies has become almost a normal part
of daily routines in the West. For males in the present study, consuming designer
sports supplements has certainly become a standard form of nutrition in their
athletic and social bodybuilding endeavors. The men feel as if they are under an
intense cultural pressure to perform as new men, and they come to trust the advice
of their doctors and trainers about how to medically build a better male body.
Playing With Fire 175
Masculinity, Power, and Self-Control
Elias (1991) outlined a triad of basic controls that frame how social power
in a guration is meted out. In other terms, by addressing how members of social
gurations develop collective solutions to control problems, we become privy to
how sociogenic change inuences human group behaviors such as sports supple-
mentation. For Elias, members of social gurations enact social control:
1. Over nature through technological advancements
2. Over groups through institutional processes and structures
3. Over individuals desires through mechanisms of self-restraint
The Civilizing Process (2002), showcased Eliass contention that the collec-
tive histories of Western nations reveal how densely interdependent agents come
to rely upon the third source of social control over the long term. Western cultural
norms now dictate, Elias argued, that the use of self-restraint is the chief source
of social control, and physical violence is less pervasive in social life. The insti-
tutional control of productive forces and knowledge dissemination also becomes
central over the civilizing process as extensive chains of human interdependence
are forged (Elias, 1996). As Brinkgreve (2004) pointed out, these mechanisms of
control tend to be dominated (at least historically) by men.
Logically, as traditional forms of masculine control (physical, institutional,
and ideological) are either challenged or perceptively subverted through ongoing
civilizing processes, standard cultural ways of knowing and acting are disrupted
(Faludi, 1999). Such ways of knowing and acting include traditionally gendered
ways of enacting physical performance and embodied identity management in
everyday life.
The emerging literature on contemporary masculine politics in Western nations
such as Canada suggests that the sources of mens social control have indeed been
fractured (at a bare minimum, ideologically) by ongoing sociogenic shifts in power
balances between the genders (Hise, 2004; Mosse, 1996; Tiger, 2000). Horrocks
(1994) showed how movements toward gender equality in families, educational
contexts, workplaces, religious institutions, and a full host of other institutional
sites call into question the very basis of masculine hegemony and its (corporeal)
representation. As an extension of what Elias (2002) referred to as the parlia-
mentarization of conict, gender stratication and related power imbalances are
systematically disputed through highly institutionalized, formal, and rationalized
rule systems. A variety of cultural commentators call the splintering and redistribu-
tion of masculine control across institutional landscapes the crisis of masculinity,
in that men (particularly men in the middle class who are being supplanted by
women in the workforce) are no longer certain about what constitutes mens roles
and statuses, or how to enact properly gendered masculine identities (Whitehead,
2002). The supplement user Dan (26) tells us:
Nowadays you hear many conicting opinions about what being a man means.
Some women want you to be tough; others want sensitive and shy. My boss
wants me to be [an ofce] leader, but my parents want me to follow their
lead. When I pick up a magazine theres a new article about what a guy is
176 Atkinson
supposed to look or talk like. But then, its like, you have to watch out what
you say because you dont want to sound sexist. . . . We cant agree, and men
are frustrated with not knowing how to act.
The social psychological crisis of masculinity to which Dan refers sets a socio-
genic backdrop for why some middle-class men engage in identity/body work via
supplementation as an innovative nexus of social control.
For example, as women penetrate the second major locus of control and power
in gurational life, anxious men in the middle class may revert to a more direct
method of gaining social stature and presence by literally building stronger bodies.
Most of the men in the current sample did not, prior to their later-life weightlift-
ing and supplementing regimens, have big bodies because of the nature of their
white-collar professions nor did they worry, moreover, about feeling physically
masculine in front of women at work. The men did not require, for either func-
tional or social reasons, enlarged or meticulously toned masculine bodies. A sales
associate named Ken (36) told me, I never thought it would be important to have
six-pack abs so I could sit at a desk all day in a suit. But with the new gender
war at work that men like Ken deconstruct and the general feminizing of the
workplace he feels is underway, bodybuilding and the pursuit of masculinity via
supplementation is a new moral imperative for him. The supplemented and mod-
erately bulked male body is, for all intents and purposes, an embodied return to a
very basic site of social control in a context of cultural uncertainty.
Men like Ken seize manipulative control over their bodies in order to reframe
(White, Young, & McTeer, 1994) their masculinity as empowered (i.e., reexive and
invested) and vibrant (i.e., muscularly different and healthy) via rather essentialist
masculine images. These men draw on and recalibrate widely disseminated and
established/traditional images of the healthy, youthful, and afuent male through
the supplementation process, and they present themselves as powerful in social
settings wherein their power has been ostensibly dislodged. Chris, a 27-year-old
teacher who uses thermogenics and diuretics to shed unwanted water weight,
articulated:
Women can say whatever they want about slim being in for men, but a
guy who invests in his body and his muscles will always be an attractive and
rewarded man. I work in a very feminine environment, right, and the women
at our school are very smart and politically aware people. So its the last place
where old-school guy crap is tolerated, and thats ne with me. I dont sell my
image and my strength that way, you know; I want people to see me as healthy
and strong, not just beefy. Body wise, that puts me at the head of the class in
front of everyone in the school, and people still respond to the dominant shape
in a group as the leader.
Chriss narrative alludes to a psychogenic change among his generation of middle-
class men, inuenced sharply by ongoing sociogenic processes in the work sphere.
Donald (24), who uses more than a dozen supplements, also described:
Everyone who said that only women feel pressure to look a certain ideal way
never spoke to a man in their life! Pick up any tness magazine and youll
see. Why would I not want a body like one of those guys; its the shape most
Playing With Fire 177
women want, for sure. Its a powerful thing to be built nowadays; people pay
attention to you, and want to listen. Its a like a drug to them. People who are
t and healthy looking get the attention, no question. Its more persuasive than
a corporate title you hold.
With diffuse ideological and material pressures to consume, commodify the
body, and perform scripted health work through highly rationalized physical
displays (see Featherstone, 2000; Crewe, 2003), one understands why Canadian
men are nding solutions to gender and class-based status problems (Cohen,
1955) in sports supplementation and bodybuilding.
Magazines including Mens Health, Mens Journal, Muscle and Fitness, and
Flex certainly encourage North American men to construct their bodies as social
problems and to consume supplements. The supplement user Ken, for example,
subscribes to four different mens health or lifestyle magazines, and discussed the
prevalence of supplement ads in them:
I love all of the workout and fashion advice in [them], but one out of every
three pages has got to be a supplement ad. Most guys get ideas about what
products are available from the magazines but are never motivated to use a
weight gainer or workout booster after seeing it in a magazine. The drive to
supplement is already there in me from hearing guys talk about them in the
gym. I only learn who sells what and where [from magazines], and the names
of the products to check out at GNC or somewhere else.
Pope et al. (2000) placed heavy emphasis on the role of the media in establishing
and promoting supplementation as an integral component in doing masculinity.
While men in the current sample are voracious consumers of mens magazines (each
man in the sample subscribed to or regularly purchased at least one health-and-
tness magazine per month), almost no one among them cited these media as major
inuences on either their social construction of masculinity or supplement use.
The more men like Cliff, Ken, and Chris perceive established masculinity to
be in crisis, whatever the source, they respond through a basic form of social (self)
controlbody management and health-image modication. Sports supplementation
is a process of self-medication and inoculation against perceived cultural ills and
the fragmentation and perceived loss of masculine hegemony. Brad (25) argued:
Its not like Im intimidated or threatened by the girls who work out in my
gym, but I dont know, I dont want to have a girlfriend with bigger muscles
than me. Women today are much smarter and tter and in control, and guys
have to step it up [get bigger] . . . thats nature; its the law of the jungle. Guys
should be bigger, even if we have to work together and share just about every
other social role in the world.
Comments like Brads also point to a common fear among the men in
the sample regarding women colonizers in their gyms and in the social realm of
athletics. Nearly two-thirds of the men in the study expressed a work-like and
competitive desire to stay ahead of women in the gym. Ryan, a 26-year-old auto
sales manager, said:
178 Atkinson
Women have stepped it up and arent afraid to be big and strong. As a guy
you have to respond, right, and stay on pace. If anything, its one of the best
motivations for me, because what t woman wants an out-of-shape guy? Well
always have the biological advantage, because guys are born with better genes
for working out and athletics. Well go the extra mile too by playing around
with drugs to give us that other secret edge.
Men like Brad and Ryan supplement alongside weight training as a curious
gesture of gendered empowerment. When cleverly rationalized as part of personal
health rejuvenation in a culture replete with discourses about disease and obesity,
the men in the sample believed their physical training and supplementation would
be lauded as corporeally self-aware and responsible. Tony told me:
I take supplements as straight-up health aids. I can control my macronutrients
perfectly and my body benets. I dont want to look like one of those dudes
walking around the park with their goddamn bellies handing to the oor and
the shit tits poking out of their shirts. Whos going to respect that, especially
when we know so much about what causes obesity and heart disease?
Tonys construction of athletic body training and supplementation rings with
a Foucauldian (1981) description of bodywork as a technology of the self. Fou-
cault described technologies of the self as ascetic and ethical practices of personal
transformation. Ascetic in this context means an exercise of self upon the self by
which one attempts to develop and transform oneself, and to attain a certain mode
of being (Foucault, 1997, p. 282). Foucault insisted that technologies of the self
could be liberating processes of moral self-realization, in which ethical self-care
practices of the body constitute power for the individual and have a transformative
capacity in ones life.
The process of self-liberation, in Foucaults model, emancipates the true
self from its bondage or repression within conditions of dominant biopower (i.e.,
the subjugated, self-surveilling, and docile behavior that is ordered and disciplined
by dominant social discourses). The self/body is freed to become through a
process of unfettered corporeal exploration and representation. If bodybuilding
and supplementation is a technology of the self, as Foucault (1981) described one,
the men in the sample might be considered conscious social resisters practicing an
embodied and creative form of self-care.
But not all of the men in the sample are as positive as Tony about the apparent
cultural need to bodybuild and supplement. A group of the men interviewed (16
in the sample) wove stories of masculine vicitimization into their supplementation
narratives.
Supplementation as a Response to Victimization
A tactically managed cultural-victim mentality underpins the rationale men
including Timothy, a 32-year-old real estate agent, offer for their supplementation
practices. The victim orientation is not overwhelming in the accounts but is never-
theless predicted by crisis-of-masculinity researchers. Timothy (32) said:
If I cant be in charge of my work, my life, or even what I say in public because
I am a guy [in the fear of being dubbed misogynist], then I can at least be in
Playing With Fire 179
charge of what I look like. No one can take that away from me. . . . Supple-
ments help the whole process. They give you strength and energy for your gym
work, and it carries over into your personal life. It also allows me to sculpt a
muscular physique that no woman can attain. I look stronger and healthier,
which is natural for a man.
For men like Timothy, the sports supplementation process helps him (at least
symbolically) retain a part of the identity denition process and allows him to feel
masculine in everyday social interaction. Other men in the sample talked about
being directly victimized as a middle-class, White male in the workplace, among
other settings.
Although stark gaps continue to exist between the genders in relation to
establishedoutsider power balances (Elias & Scotson, 1965) within institutional
settings, 12 of the men interviewed in this study believed their positions as estab-
lished authority gures have been especially fractured by womens participation in
economic and political spheres. When telling stories about the motivations under-
pinning sports supplementation, the men spoke about feeling threatened at work
or in other social circles by younger, smarter, and healthier womenespecially
within image-oriented business environments where outward appeal is equated with
intellectual competency and moral worth. It seems that as women have secured
preliminary in-roads to political-economic power sources in Western cultures like
Canada, a faction of the men interviewed in this study are increasingly fear oriented
in their dispositions (see Sargent, 2000; Schmitt, 2001). The micropolitics of ofce
work, it seems, now include displaying bigger muscles or trimming excess fat
through weightlifting and supplementation. These men utilize bodybuilding and
supplementation as techniques to regain, literally, a physical presence of distinction
in the workplace. Lance (35) recounted:
You go to work and everyone is younger, tter, and healthier. I cant lie and
pretend that it kicks the crap out of your condence and translates into worries
about getting red sometimes. Girls 10 years younger than me look and perform
like buff super women. . . . I used to take care of myself religiously, but let
it slide over time like most men used to do. . . . Ive been hitting the gym for
about a year, and Ive made huge gains with my body through supplementing.
Now when Im at work, the guys, and more women too, they ask me for tips
and tricks about getting lean. The ironic thing is also how theyre stopping
by to ask me more work-related advice too. No one treats me like an idiot
anymore. Ask me if I think the two are connected!
It is important to note that Lances victim orientation encouraged him to
consider nutritionally based bodywork as a solution to his perceived gender and
work-related inadequacies and self-interpreted social stigmatization. His masculin-
ity, partly anchored in his ability to physically appear as competent in the work-
place, is reconciled through supplementation as a pseudo medical technique of
intervention. Lances ability to look good as a man supersedes concerns about
his ability to perform intellectually as a business administrator.
For other men in the sample, their ascribed social positions as established
workers within dense chains of interdependency are threatened and identities
victimized by subtle implications that their bodies appear powerless. As Connell
180 Atkinson
and Wood (2005) documented through the study of business cultures, middle-class
mens sense of masculinity is often validated by peers positive comments regarding
ones body image and style while on the job. For the men in the sample who had
experienced persistent teasing about their bodies (i.e., the fat, unhealthy, powerless
body), this manifested into a fear that others viewed them as inadequate socially
(see Grogan & Richards, 2002). A man adopting such an interpretive mindset
associates his peers lack of public acknowledgment of him as a business expert
as an indicator of their collective interpretation of his decient body. Colin (29),
an avid human growth hormone user, described:
The minute you start to pack on muscle, the guys and girls will ock around
you like their leader. Nothing is more impressive to most people than someone
who is strong. Deep down I think all men have a fear and respect for the big-
gest guy on the block. No one ever used to give me respect until I grew bigger.
Now I have tons. No word of shit, the HGH gave me the boost in condence
and social respect I wanted.
The threat some middle-class men perceive to exist regarding their masculin-
ity in the workplace is of course compounded by the type of labor they perform.
The men in the sample used for the current study are predominantly employed in
either service or information processing industries. The men are among a genera-
tion of white-collar professionals who are perhaps the most stationary workforce
in our cultural history (Campos, 2004). With decreasing amounts of spare time,
dietary habits often revolving around high-calorie, fast-food choices, and leisure
time dominated by consumption and inactivity, the physical tolls on their bodies
are evident (Critser, 2002). Work in the postindustrial economy and associated
lifestyles are not easily reconciled for them with traditional images of the power-
ful, performing, and dominant male (Faludi, 1999; Niva, 1998). Following years of
inactivity and work-related physical atrophy, the men needed energy-boosting,
muscle-building, and weight-loss-enhancing supplements to help them on the road
to physical recovery. The mens workout and dietary efforts needed to be, from
their perspectives, fuelled by sports supplements in order to extract maximum gain
in the shortest time:
I changed my goals entirely last year. I used to go in for the whole get huge
philosophy, and now its about leaning down and shredding up. Thats the
body style I want . . . low body fat and total denition. Its a modied lean,
mean, metrosexual look. So, you have to take some supplements to build up
the muscle quickly and efcient, but others to help lose water and burn fat.
Tricky, but you can do it. (Charles, 24)
The men interviewed in the present study also expressed a sense of frustration
with the precise form and content of their work responsibilities. For these men,
ritually performing disembodied or virtual work (i.e., computer-facilitated) every
day encourages a mindbody separation and neglect (see also Potts, 2002). Sams
(24) words are emblematic:
I sit on my tail all day at the computer, and its no wonder why my body got
fat. As a kid, I could run all day and play sports, but going to college and then
Playing With Fire 181
getting a job turned me into a sloth punching computer keys. I went from a
healthy young guy to a beaten down slob doing someone elses work. Thats
not the real me, you know; its not the image I want to portray. . . . The energy
drinks I take about a half hour before I lift really give me the drive I need to get
through my workouts. Its made a huge difference; people respect me again.
. . . Im not exactly sure whats in them, but the proof is in the muscle.
Men like Sam refuse to link damaged or atrophied bodies with inner
masculine selves. Sams body is objectied and instrumentalized in the sports-
supplementation process because he views his physical form as a site of much
needed identity management via nutraceutical intervention. His body regimen
exacerbates existing fears about his body as socially nonmasculine. Such men
believe that sports supplements will provide the most rapid, efcient, and effective
ways of alleviating psychological strains and social discomforts.
Narratives about the role of sports supplements in eliminating the unfortunate
side effects of sedentary lifestyles and boosting ones overall work energy are thus
replete with constructions of the generic masculine body and self as victimized.
Men tell stories about new cultural expectations that males should labor long
hours to look appealing, healthy, sensitive, and subtly strong. For men like Daniel
(34), an investment broker from Toronto, his need for thermogenics results from
a need to strip away the fat from his socially marginalized masculine body:
You cant be a modern guy and think women are not looking at you and com-
paring your body against someone like Brad Pitt. If theres anything new in
this millennium, its that men have to be attractive to succeed in life. . . . So, I
take about ve different supplements on a regular basis to keep a sleek, clean,
and lean look. Some of them are for power and stamina in the gym, and some
are for like muscle recovery. The BCAA powder I take now helps me recover,
right, and the tribulus builds up the muscles with the right stack of protein and
creatine. To take off my crappy weight and strip down, I take thermogenics.
I cycle those up pretty regularly because they also give you an awesome rip
in the gym right before a workout. Down it with some coffee, and you can
feel like you can lift anything. . . . My perspective is that if I am stronger than
ever, my bones must be getting the benet, and my heart is pumping, so Im
healthier than the average guy out there sucking back Whoppers and slugging
down Cokes.
Daniels sedentary work habits bloated his body for nearly 10 years. The fat
loss and muscle-building supplements temporarily remove the trappings of his
inactive male form. Like other men, Daniel denes sports supplementation as a
symbol of his dedication to looking his best, even in the context of incredible social
constraints. This is, for Daniel, a decisively self-restrained but proactive response
to the condemning social judgments made about his masculinity in everyday life.
Perhaps true to (hegemonic) masculine form, when confronted about their
constructions, masculine victimization, and the remedy of sports supplementation,
the men employ a clever set of neutralization techniques. The men worry about
being perceived as obsessive about their bodies (a quality typically associated with
femininity) or that the use of sports supplements signies nonmasculine weakness,
low self-esteem, and inferiority. The main neutralization technique employed is
182 Atkinson
the classic denial of victim narrative. Phil (26) tells us, Why the fuck would
someone care if Im on creatine. I mean if Im not hurting anyone, who cares? Leave
me alone, and go bug someone on crack or smoking cigarettes. The aggressive
posturing Phil adopts in his supplement storytelling might be described as quintes-
sentially, or at least traditionally, masculine. Phil refuses to have his body choices
or preferences interrogated by others, and when this occurs, he responds from an
overtly powerful position of self-control. While men like Phil candidly expressed
a sense of being victimized by current gender and work politics in Canada, they
did not want to be feminized as complainers. Ron (30) said:
Most of my friends who warn me about supplements have no idea what they are
talking about. These people dont eat properly, work out, or anything. How the
hell are they going to tell me about getting healthy and staying in decent shape?
Dont knock it until you try it, pal. Or, go and do your homework, shithead.
Men like Ron reframe supplement consumption as masculine character building.
The courage and discipline associated with consuming supplements are highlighted
as a powerful and self-controlled response to their temporary identity and body
problems.
Discussion
Despite the boom in academic literature on sports supplementation by com-
petitive athletes and resultant concerns about the degree of fairness in elite-level
sport (Miah, 2004), very little attention has been directed toward the social use of
supplements in the general public of exercising men. Even though sporadic media
reports draw our attention to the overall lack of State regulatory processes in place
to control the contents and distribution of dangerous and/or improperly labeled
products, we know relatively nothing about how mainstream, over-the-counter
sports supplements are consumed and experienced by nonelite athletes.
In gym settings, for example, sports supplements are so heavily advocated
that their consumption has become deeply ritualized. Monaghan (2002) illustrated
how there is, indeed, an embedded ethnopharmacological culture of supplement
consumption in most gym/tness gurations. Data gathered in this study point to
the uncritical use of supplements among the users interviewed. For the most part,
the recreational supplement user knows only a marginal amount about the actual
contents of the products, has no scientic method for evaluating their impact, and
has no long-term plan of use. These men, while realistic about the degree of actual
body-composition change created by supplements, choose to continue their con-
sumption with an it cant hurt, it can only help mentality. They socially construct
the consumption of sports supplements as part of a neoliberal, do-it-yourself method
of getting t or healthy. Their conscious strategies of supplementation may,
then, be read not only as a quest for social power and efcacy through masculine
bodywork, but as a legitimate health agendahowever informed by science.
Narratives gathered from these men allude to varying degrees of psychological
dependence on the supplements for everyday living and body satisfaction. Narratives
outlined in this paper also suggest how mens interpretations of moral worth,
Playing With Fire 183
social recognition, and general self-image as males can be deeply affected by their
commitment to sports supplementation as part of an overall health lifestyle.
The consumption of sports supplements can, therefore, be an indicator of
how some Canadian men in the middle class feel doubt, confusion, and anxiety
with regard to how what constitutes acceptable masculinity and how healthy
bodies are to be built and represented in the pursuit of masculinity. For these
men, sports supplements are, at least partially, predictable solutions to ambiguous
cultural problems like the changing roles and statuses of men. They use scien-
tically designed sports-supplement products to solve social and psychological
(psychogenic) anxieties, believing they can consume a full range of magic products
to achieve their masculine physical goals. The strict control over their bodies and
social identities as male replaces a sense of control not perceived by them in other
social spheres. The celerity of the process is especially appealing for them because
they believe supplements tend to work in a matter of a few weeks. Furthermore,
since the products are easily accessible and widely promoted and discussed as part
of the new ethnopharmacology in tness cultures, it is not surprising that these men
experiment with one supplement or another.
Yet as an insider to sports training cultures and supplementation processes,
and as a White, middle-class, male sociologist interviewing other males, my own
social status in the research process undoubtedly inuenced the form and content of
narratives assembled in the study and certainly my theoretical reading of the mens
narratives. Indeed, part of the active interviewing process is to draw out common
interpretive resources shared between individuals as a technique of fostering inter-
personal trust and narrative development. The open sharing of crisis perspectives
by the men in the interview process is potentially an artifact of respondents seeing
themselves across the table and feeling comfortable enough to share anxiety or
status-loss stories with one of their own (Goffman, 1963). Further still, my open-
probing and conceptual-focusing processes on segments of the mens narratives
highlighting anxieties, power differentials, and crisis experiences became privileged
over others as the interviews progressed. Unquestionably, there are other ways of
reading mens experiences with sports supplements, then, and myriad other ways
of knowing the sports-supplement process as lived experience.
In sum, the gurational understanding of sociogenic and psychogenic sym-
biosis explored in this study calls attention to how processes like masculine body
anxiety, sports supplementation, and ethnopharmacology do not develop as strictly
subcultural logics shared within esoteric social groups. The men interviewed in
this research commonly narrated perceptions of a dismantled masculine social
authority in Canada and linked their bodies practices to such sociogenic change.
Whether one grants empirical (i.e., structural) legitimacy to these middle-class
mens fears about the crisis is secondary. Elias (1996, 2002) noted, of course, that
both objective and subjective understandings of sociogenic change affect cultural
habituses over the course of time.
Critics of the men interviewed for the current study might suggest the perceived
crisis of masculinity is merely mythologized and collectively lamented by the men.
Others might argue the crisis narrative is more than inconsequential storytelling;
it is a strategic backlash against the modest gains Canadian women (at least in
the middle class) have secured in workplace and other institutional settings. The
184 Atkinson
men studied in this paper have clearly appropriated and reworked victimization
discourses of subjugated groups in the country as a tactical power play, or discur-
sive truth game, as part of their crisis management. Elias and Scotson (1965) have
shown how established groups frequently poach and reframe the expressed social
problems of outsiders (e.g., racism, sexism, poverty, or intolerance) in order to
ideologically negate the very foundations of social inequality. While White males
in the Canadian middle class do by no means have unfettered power chances across
the social landscapeand, inasmuch, their hegemonic positions have been legiti-
mately disruptedtheir relative power chances, as compared with women in similar
sociodemographic categories or others, remain titled in their favor. But the men
who supplement with sports products genuinely express fear, doubt, and anxiety
about what constitutes masculinity in Canada, and their embodied performances
of gender and class are evidently affected.
Acknowledgment
The author would like to thank Annelies Knoppers and the reviewers for their helpful
comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
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