Norwich academic claims austerity has driven men to the gym to become ‘spornosexuals’

A University of East Anglia lecturer says his research suggests austerity has led young men to head

A University of East Anglia lecturer says his research suggests austerity has led young men to head for the gym, so they can create social media 'brands' with the aid of their honed physiques. Pic: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The economic crisis and austerity are having an unexpected consequence: more young men striving for gym-fit, photo-perfect bodies that they use to create a social media brand, according to new research by the University of East Anglia.

A study by Dr Jamie Hakim, suggests traditional routes to success and power have been eroded in 'Austerity Britain', causing young men to seek value instead through their bodies.

He says, since the 2008 financial crash, there has been an observable rise in young men sharing images of their worked-out bodies on social media platforms,

His paper, 'The Spornosexual': the affective contradictions of male body-work in neoliberal digital culture', has been published in the Journal of Gender Studies.

The lecturer in media studies said: 'Austerity has eroded young men's traditional means of value-creation so they have become increasingly reliant on their bodies as a means of feeling valuable in society.'

The term 'spornosexuality', combining 'sports star' and 'porn star', was coined in July 2014 by media commentator Mark Simpson, in an article in The Daily Telegraph about the rise of men attending the gym primarily for reasons of appearance, rather than for health or fitness.

Dr Hakim examined data from Sport England which showed a significant year-on-year increase in the amount of 16 to 25-year-old men attending the gym between 2006 and 2013.

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Meanwhile, the market research company Nielsen found that sales of sports nutrition products that are used to strip body fat and build muscle increased by 40pc in Britain's 10 largest supermarkets – the second-largest growth in sales of any product sold in supermarkets in 2014.

And the print version of Men's Health magazine became the best-selling title in the British men's magazine market in 2009, selling nearly twice as many copies as its nearest competitor - GQ magazine.

Dr Hakim said: 'There is a correlation between the rise of young men fashioning muscular bodies and sharing them online, and the austerity measures experienced by their generation.

'These economic tactics are widening inequality, especially for those born after 1980, with prohibitively high house prices, the loss of secure long-term contracts, tuition fees and other hurdles to economic security.

'The projection of what constitutes a 'good life' has become so spectacular even while the means of achieving home ownership, a prestigious career and a high income are radically diminishing.'

Through interviews with young British men who regularly use the gym and have built a social media 'brand' based on their worked-out bodies, Dr Hakim found each man talked about the importance of peer response to the images they circulated.

Dr Hakim said: 'They continue to addictively 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.'