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Men’s bodies under women’s eyes The sociology of appearance through the prism of conjugality

Marion Braizaz

Research Framework: In the twentieth century, there was a major inflexion regarding social representations of the body. Currently, the way individuals stage their own bodies is seen in our society as something that has to be unique, reflecting one’s identity construction. While men have kept away from the world of appearance for a long time, they are now – like women – marked in their everyday life by the aesthetic imperative. Within conjugal intimacy, this new order has a particular resonance.
Objectives: The subject of our article is to demonstrate how the work of appearance represents a decisive conjugal issue, where the aesthetic choices of each member of a couple are constantly submitted to the other’s eyes.

Methodology: Following a qualitative survey about the aesthetic experience of individuals conducted in France among 32 women and 28 men, we identified a crucial gendered asymmetry in the private sphere.

Results: In the conjugal game of appearances, the social imaginary promoting the well-being of everyone collides with feminine sovereignty. Men’s aesthetic dependency on women appears evident. Faced with this women’s influence, male tactics are radically different from one social group to another. At the top of the social ladder, men of the upper classes manage to restore balance by creating a subtle reciprocity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, men of more modest social classes are bereft of this option and can only offer minimal resistance to this control by women.
Conclusions: Using a cross-referenced analysis of the sociology of couples and a sociology of aesthetic practices, this article highlights how conjugality happens to be the place of undeniably imbalanced power, doubly marked, both by gender and social status.

Contribution: Moreover, this article emphasizes how conjugality constitutes a key modality of men’s aesthetic experience, which is far from being the case for women.