Society and culture have their different voices, which resonates what is beauty, what is expected, what is undesirable, and what is ideal body. The concept of body image is known for its significance and powerful effects on humans. Issues regarding body image can also be traced to the media and cultural representation of it for both genders. Beauty standards that are set by mass media can be very serious in a way that they can affect a person’s affective and perceptual sensation, which at times lead to body disorders. The way people feel about their general attractiveness and bodies is influenced by these standards (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2004
In shaping a person’s thoughts and feelings about their own body as well as a person’s perception regarding ideal body appearance, several factors play their role. The socio-cultural context, i.e. the dominant narratives of beauty, ‘ways of knowing’ and culturally specific and fluctuation beliefs and values play its dominant influential roles in both cases (Tai Soon, 2013
). In view of that, there is a difference in what is deemed an ideal body image by diverse ethnic and cultural groups and by different people all over the world (Baumann, 2008
; Dlova, Hamed, Tsoka-Gwegweni, Grobler, & Hift, 2014
). It is also seen that the frequency of societal messages that are repeatedly telling people how to look and how not to look is intensifying in their occurrence. Appearance culture tends to concentrate more on women but the focus of society has also intensified concerning male appearance (Murnen & Don, 2012
; Strelan & Hargreaves, 2005
). By virtue of this, boys and men too tend to intensely, and gradually perceive their bodies as projects to work on.
When it comes to spouse selection, it has been widely perceived as a matter of extreme significance in Pakistanis’ lives. It is not just an agreement between two partners but an exercise that involves religion and culture as well. The decisions of parents and other family members are considered highly important in this regard. The mate selection yardsticks differ from family to family based on their unique way of thinking; however, physical characteristics or facial attractiveness is an integral part of aesthetic preference needed to select a mate of life in all societies of the world including Pakistan (Hussain & Gulzar, 2015
In Pakistan, a small number of studies have attempted to assess perception of men regarding body image. Muscularity, body shape including height, hair, and facial features were identified as a cause of body dissatisfaction by the university students in Lahore (Tariq & Ijaz, 2015
). Moreover, when it comes to genders and patriarchy, in the Pakistani context culturally and linguistically diverse and divided, confined within the androcentric male world, Pakistani women are exploited as they find their bodies the site of emotional, physical, and physiological conflict upon which their fate is ultimately decided (Silva, 2003
). Hence, our study is established with this understanding that in a nation where objectification of women and male dominance runs side by side, the question does rise to encompass what are the standards or expectations held by targeted society and people to judge a person regarding a beautified body.
Objectives of the study
The objective of this study is designed to unveil the single male perception and cultural notion of post-marriage body image for men. It has not only highlighted men perception for themselves but has also explored men’s reflection of what women of Pakistani society think about female body post marriage. Gym-goers were interviewed to establish differences between their perception as well as that of a general society. Married men and women were not interviewed because of the changes in life’s accountabilities after marriage. Independent unmarried men were targeted to explore the topic.
Statement of the problem
Human beings have always coveted beautiful objects, but the desire to look good is touching new heights worldwide. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see someone that appears attractive or normal? Does your reflection meet your perceptions of adequate, or do you see someone that does not meet cultural standards of beauty? The scenario demonstrates how much your emotions are tied to your society and culture. Continuous infiltration of cultural and societal messages regarding beauty and body image into our daily lives is ever increasing. This highlights the need to investigate its impacts and the way men of Pakistani society perceive diversely this ideal and persistent influential phenomenon.
The rapid changes in the societal standards concerning a beautiful human and the drastic sprouting of gyms and male saloons in the last decade established a sign that the concern for beautification is on the rise. People are now relying on experts, trainers and their services for the purpose to achieve ideal appearances being portrayed. For this purpose, the study is designed to investigate the role of Pakistani society concerning youth’s physical perception and psychological characteristics linked with their body after marriage.
In order to gain an in-depth knowledge of an indigenous understanding body image after marriage, an ethnographic study was carried out.
Fredrickson and Roberts (1997)
have proposed in their Objectification Theory that we live in a society where on a person’s outward appearance and sexual attractiveness a high value is placed. This leads the individuals to establish their self-worth by determining how well they fit in the cultural norms that are set for the appearance. Patriarchy is manifested by men holding a position of superiority, practicing dominance and power over women. Men are being portrayed as providers for the family, authoritarian, aggressive, whereas women are perceived as sexual objects, caregivers, and nurturing mothers (McCue, 1995
; Trujillo, 1999
A study by Rohlinger (2002)
showed that in the contemporary advertising men are presented in increasingly objectifying way. On the other hand, women’s greater tendency to self-objectify as compared to men is barely surprising because we are a part of a culture in which women are drowned with media images, and social interaction largely focuses on a women’s physical appearance (Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge, 1998
; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998
The objectification theory has helped to investigate the influence society has on men’s self-objectification as well as its substantial effect on their way of physical presentation after marriage. It was also applied to answer the question that whether self or sexual objectification is targeted more at the male or females at the hands of this society and other means of mediums according to male perception. This theory has made its contribution for research analysis. It has enabled us to analyze that to what extent men are objectified in Pakistani society, based on gender perception.
In order to achieve a rich data on indigenous perception of body image after marriage and the respondent’s views and lived experiences regarding it, a qualitative methodology was chosen. An in-depth semi-structured interview technique was chosen as a primary data collection method and one focus group discussion was conducted. The methods were chosen to have an in-depth knowledge about individual’s subjective responses and views about post-marriage body image. The one-on-one interviews facilitated additional time and planned meetings per interviewee availability, and probing was convenient to go further in detail without any time constraint. On the other hand, focus group was useful in gaining disparate views from different individuals who came from different family background but had same ethnicity. Students were chosen from bachelors and masters in science background and number of respondents in each group were eight with age ranging from 20 and 24 years old. The group had four males who went to gym out of eight being chosen.
The sampling unit involved the individuals that are labeled as the youth in this study. The age range of sample was ‘late adolescence (18–24) and early adulthood (24–34)’ (Newman & Newman, 2012
The study was not intended to explore differences in perception based on age; rather it was just used as a definitive criterion for understanding youth period. The word adolescence comes from the Latin adolescere, which means “to grow into adulthood” (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009
) and this phase of life was chosen because the physical and psychological changes in puberty increase the strength of the focus on the body (Rumsey, 2002
The number of respondents comprised of 17 males of which 7 were gym-goers. The difference in selection choice was determined to know how the general sample who did not go to gym or indulged in fitness perceived body after marriage as compared to those who are gym goers. These gym goers were occasionally exercising, not more than five, or six days a week. They were either doing brisk walk in park, roads and gymming (cardio and weight lifting). Gym goers and non-gym-goers comparison was made because it is known that in the 21st century, everyday life offers fewer opportunities for physical activity, and the resultant sedentary lifestyles have serious consequences on public health (Purohit & Singh, 2012
). Researchers have shown that individuals engaging in regular exercises such as gymming, swimming etc. have improved and better self-esteem, better body image satisfaction (Depcik & Williams, 2004
; Lepage & Crowther, 2010
). For this intention, the study has used gym goers to investigate whether body modification attitude exists in men’s mind while perceiving body and its positive outcomes.
The interviewees belong to Punjabi ethnicity and demographically, the Punjabis comprise the largest single ethnic group (44.7 percent) in Pakistan’s population (Misachi, 2018
). The respondents belonged to families who are the permanent residents of Islamabad and Rawalpindi area since last 40 to 60 years.
With the aim of acquiring a broad range of vision, beliefs, and experiences, participants were selected from the urban field of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Islamabad is the national capital and the hub for all governmental activities; Rawalpindi is an older and much larger city and is a center of industrial, commercial, and military activity.
The reason why the urban areas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi are selected is that the cities are an embodiment of a diversity of cultures, ethnic groups, and people. There is also a great extent of multiplicity with regard to living cultural outlook, living conditions, religious beliefs, food and dress patterns, traditions and customs of the urbanites.
The interview guide was developed from a review of the literature and our interests on some questions, which we were keen to explore in Pakistani culture. A pilot study was conducted on one married and one single interviewee, i.e. aged 27 and a gym-goer aged 24, to investigate their perception and comprehension regarding body image in Pakistani culture. The respondents were interviewed on the following themes: body image, dieting/weight evaluation, thin ideals/fat, body area satisfaction and dissatisfaction, culture and body image post and pre marriage. The pilot study was conducted to assess whether the research protocol is realistic and workable, and whether the sampling frame and technique are effective in developing a research question and research plan. The interview was given in both languages, i.e. Urdu and English. Some of the Urdu expression and responses were left in their original articulated form.
Based on relevant past and present literature and theory objectification, an in-depth interview schedule was administered. Thematic analysis method was used as a qualitative paradigm and it is considered a process, which involves identification of themes and patterns within qualitative data. It was suggested by Braun and Clarke (2006)
that thematic analysis is the first qualitative method that should be learned as, ‘identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns (themes) within the data’ (p.78). The approach was utilized to check and validate that whether the data yielded was consistent with the research questions and provide sufficient information.
Purposive sampling was applied in this study since the aim is to focus on particular characteristics of a scattered population concerning the researcher’s study questions and concern (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011
). This technique involves the identification and selection of those individual or group of individuals that are proficient and knowledgeable with the phenomenon of interest. For this purpose, the knowledge was gained from Punjabi youth of Pakistani society by conducting in-depth interview. This not only highlighted their perception as well as what they believed this society thinks and expects.
The chosen sample represents single people only for interviews and focus group discussion. The single men were those who were still studying in college, university and doing jobs. They were unmarried, not committed, or engaged but only few had on and off relationship not being publicly declared.
Single women were also studied and extensive data were collected, but for this research article, only single men were considered because of the journal guidelines for word limit The research did not consider married people because the effects of marriage and body changes were only meant to be studied on the basis of single adolescents’ perception and understanding. Pilot showed that most of the married people had reasons and justifications for not indulging in body care. The major reason was, priorities changes after marriage, intensity of responsibility, job, mental stress, hectic routine, and marriage life, which involves kids and household duties. These factors were blamed for not looking after one’s body and were kept in mind for the exclusion of married men. For this reason, single men were studied to yield their perception as it is believed and known that before marriage a person has a life of free will at their parents’ home.
Before the conduction of an in-depth interview or discussion, informed consent was gained from each participant. They were also given the right to withdraw from the interviewing process anytime according to their wish. It was also affirmed by the researcher that confidentiality would be maintained. The interview lasted for 90 minutes to 150 minutes.
Results and analysis
A closer look at the date yielded from intensive interviews indicates that males believed in 50/50 ratio of expectations held for females shaped body; unlike for males, not much expectation is held regarding their body image after marriage. By respondent’s explanation, the ratio in its expressive form means that half of the society holds expectations, whereas the other half remains indifferent. Either female are expected to get back in shape which some fulfill, while others overlook, or it is not at all anticipated because people are aware of the new duties women have to live up to. Then there are those spouses who expect their male partners to have toned bodies or to be in shape just out of media influence. Lastly, only those spouses look after their bodies that have concern for their body image above all other matters.
In the following section, we have foremost highlighted men’s views about their body and the reasons and factors that are linked with body after marriage in Pakistani society.
Body and married life responsibility
Findings of our study2 based on men’s perception established that females and males are on a new journey of responsibilities after marriage. Concern for body image is overlooked in the light of one’s errands.
Women’s priorities have changed, i.e., household and children responsibility. However, only in rare cases girls are expected to be in shape. Married boys have responsibilities to look after and fulfill as well. After the age of 30 or 35, both man and women think this is it, it is enough. (stated by a 22-year-old woman)
A women time now revolves around household chores, fulfilling husband demands and most of all looking after children. Research also shows that in South Asian family, the position of household leader is held by the women and they exhibit this by taking care of their offspring and husbands through meal preparation and house chores handlings (Choudhry, 1998; Chowbey, 2017).
Furthermore, it was held by our male respondents that the only affairs that need both gender’s attention is their family, and the body is something which is not to be worried about. “Boys have pressure from office and job and to pick and drop children on time. They do not have enough time to give to their body” (aged 26). On the other hand, one respondent stated man’s indifference towards the body after marriage in this way, “Mostly guys let go of this worry after marriage because eating habits change and fortunately they get everything on bed and indulge more in outings (aged 27)”. In Pakistani society, after marriage since a man has his wife to look after him besides his mother who also attends to his needs, he feels at ease. His wife is day and night there to fulfill his needs from basic to physiological. He becomes a carefree person, he can even demand food on his bed, and his wife does fulfill. Then it is outings and social gatherings which are not only enjoyed with friends, colleagues but with the wife also. Meals and snacking incredibly increase in the very first year for both genders.
When couples share mutual interest of eating, together they both are aware they will gain weight. Mutually, it is then a weight preoccupation for both or one of them looks after weight and the last choice is both of them remain unconcerned, in line with our study results. Previous research shows that married individuals are more likely to be overweight than their non-married counterparts (Hahn, 1993
; Sobal, Rauschenbach, & Frongillo, 1992
When it comes to women, fatness gained by reproduction is also one of the major excuses, which are employed when justifying one’s body increased mass. “Because it is clearly acknowledged that they have gone fat because of kids and responsibility on them has increased. They are also looking after the needs of their husbands, if they are making them happy, this is enough,” stated by a male gym-goer age 25. Looking after one’s husband’s needs and contentment is considered the utmost achievement for females in Pakistan. It was revealed by male respondents3
that it is believed by Pakistani woman that making a husband happy is like getting hold of the key to his heart and home. If she is all nurturing and performing her roles well after marriage, then she is the ideal women. Research also shows that in industrialized societies, a gendered division of labor was exaggerated such that women were more likely to be associated with nurturing roles in the home and men with industrious roles outside the home (Murnen & Don, 2012
Respondents have their say as, “Heightened concern for toned body is before marriage because your future male partner may be expecting it from you. After that you are married, you have kids now, and this is it” (aged 28). Body preoccupation is successfully fulfilled before marriage, since after it, it is all about family and kids. Before marriage, the culture plays its role in transmitting appearance-related messages. It is expectant of their body to be in its ideal form, i.e. in shape and flawless. It should not be fat or overweight, for this will not yield them good marriage proposals.
It was also perceived by men that some male spouses might also realize that the body changes that come after conception are hard to overcome. In this regard, expecting a spouse to be in shape is not strongly pursued. Respondent (aged 28) mentioned,
Before marriage it is not easy to get likeminded people, so in order to get desired mate you change your body so that people may think of you as an ideal girl. The changes that come after conception, you cannot even think of addressing those physical changes. Some girls do expect from boys to look after their body too, but again both of them are changing equally.
Nevertheless, why this body modification is observed by women before marriage to be thought of in terms of ideal partner? According to our study results gained from focus group and male interviews, Pakistani society has taught women to be more compliant and accommodating, whether it is gender or body roles. Societal messages regarding compliance with standards of ideal body reflect a promising ideal mate match and prospects.
Mutual expectations for other’s body
Besides discussing absence of expectations with relevance to body image in both genders based on male perception, we would now like to discuss how anticipations are exhibited in various forms even when some respondents have earlier claimed that expectations do not exist.
Both genders expect from each another. Boys are of this thinking that after a tiring day they expect a smart wife, i.e., bodily attractive and toned, to cuddle and romance with. Girls wish for a dream boy too since watching so many movies create this expectation in females to wish for a Brad Pitt like husband and boys desiring to have Angelina Jolie like girl beside them. (22 years old)
These ideal forms of husbands and wives are not only promoted by society but media has its hand in it too.
Media has recurrently played its signified role in creating fantasized body of both genders as partners.
It is being known that if a person has an attractive and appealing partner, he will be more sexually entertained and satisfied as compared to an obese or much healthier one. Even though the obese partner won’t be spared but ‘the better the good’ is something which cannot be denied. (shared during interview, age 28)
Culture has also taught what to expect and what is beautiful. Patriarchy has its strong roots in emphasizing what is to be anticipated from female gender and it is ingrained in their mind that this expectation is normal. A man may be fat and bald, which according to responses are the two major physical factors that are considered undesirable but the same man still expects a bride as beautiful as moon or hoor4 for himself.
Likewise, interviewee aged 18 shared, “Girls know if their body will not be according to the societal standards of body image, i.e., smart and not overweight, then she will be rejected for marriage proposal”. From looks to curves, from attractiveness to being active, all positive traits and characteristics get associated with a good-looking female, developing greater probability to be selected as a mate. Fitness-related evolutionary theories propose that appearance cues, such as attractiveness, are truly indicative of a person’s characteristics, health, and value as a mate (Rennels, 2012
Men held that expectations of female for male body image are created out of influence from the ideal male body portrayed on media. However, the emphasis is more on women’s body and the way it is believed and expected to appear. It is an unquestionable matter that before marriage mostly girls in this culture are expected to keep their body in shape and so post marriage as well. “In Pakistani society, girls are only objectified because male dominance is prevailing. Male dominant culture set standards and demands on its women so that they could be what they want them to become” – expressed by a 28-year-old interviewee.
Research also says that, in accordance to the human-made selection theory, attractive women are sought by men because the attribute of attractiveness signals reproductive fitness and youth (Buss, 1998
; Thornhill, 1998
). Since the media has advanced the image of an ideal body for both genders, it affects the thinking patterns of some.
Out of this media influence, any of the gender can now expect this idealism and body standard at any point.
Due to close friendly relation with husbands and seeing movies in which fit male body image is being shown girls can understand the difference between fit versus fat body of a person. However, in case of those females who have no babies, she may keep herself physically fit, so the husband may not be attracted towards other girls.
Some females also tend to keep themselves physically fit; it was asserted by male respondents that in order to keep their male spouse in hands and prevent them from getting attracted towards another woman, they had to maintain their appeal. In Pakistani society, the trend is that women have to keep her up to date so that her husband never loses interest in her attractive existence.5
Body, family and self
Apart from partner’s and cultural anticipations, family relations are also identified to become a cause of push for looking after one’s body, as an interviewee (aged 26) stated, “It is expected from girls to be in shape, parents and cousins have their say in this matter that they should reduce. It is expected from boys as well, but they do not try.” However, even those females who wish to try, their efforts are hindered because “It is not possible due to time constraints and burden of family responsibilities, hence, their efforts fail” (age 30). Males are repeatedly inferred to be the one who are not among the list of those who stand indifferent about their bodies post marriage.
Even if they are expected by, majority of them pay no heed to, whereas the minority may go for it out of self-interest, desire, or pressure of expectation. “It is expected from boys too and some of them do look after their bodies” (age 22). These expectations result in a moderate attempt in few, unconcerned behavior in some and a complete indifference in several.
According to one interviewee, if the concern continued after marriage in both genders, it means both of them have this preoccupation before marriage as well. It was all about self-interest and inner motivation in this situation. A 22-year-old gym-goer was of the view,
1 out of 100 girls are concerned both pre and post marriage. Mostly girls are concerned after marriage because they get worried and talk about how much they have gained weight and fats. However, men are less concerned, I may say 50/100 is concerned before and after as well. If some boys or girls are concerned about fitness, they will keep this attitude pre and post marriage.
Patriarchy and body
Besides personal reasons for body concern, respondent’s answers and group discussions asserted that in a patriarchal society a man could have anything. Men seek a beautiful spouse and since childhood, they keep hearing in their family unit that a beautiful bride will be brought into the home. A team of investigators asked people about their mate preferences in cultures across the globe. They asked people to list in order the qualities they found most important in a romantic partner. In nearly every sample, men rated good looks as more important in a partner than females did. The importance placed on physical attractiveness by men and women, however, varies across cultures (Frederick, Reynolds, Fales, & Garcia, 2012
On the other hand, the illicit affair was also the reason a male interviewee (aged 24) indicated behind a man’s concern for his body. “Some of them may have the intention to get married or maintain extramarital affairs; they do not want to look like uncle after gaining weight but instead look young.” In males, a concern to look after one’s body is related with one’s interest in females. Surely, it is deemed that youthful appearance will always have its own attraction as compared to a person who looks older than his age due to unshaped or fat body. It was believed by men of this study that youthful looks will always make you have any girl you want; the older impression mostly connoted as uncle, can repel this attraction.
The term ‘uncle’ was frequently used while referring to a male who seemed older than his age when his body was not in shape or muscled rather it was overweight and bulky. However, I would like to give a detailed meaning of this term’s usage in Pakistan. Firstly, it is used to present second-degree relatives such as father’s sister husband, mostly stated as Phophaa in the Urdu Language, or mother’s sister husband as Khalu. It is also used for father and mother’s brother and the term for them is Chacha (for the younger brother of the father), Taaya (for the elder brother of the father) and for mother’s brothers it is Maamu. Secondly, the term uncle is also uttered in its symbolic means such as a respectful way of addressing anyone who is significantly older than one is. Finally, clarifying the connotation of our interviewee’s perspective, the term uncle was sarcastically used to reflect someone who seems elder because his body does not reflect the body of a young man particularly if he is bald or fat. Appearing bodily older is not desirable because it reflects you are not young enough.
Male enlarged belly
Male protruding belly after marriage is also one of the major factors, which cause males to look after their body out of either self-push or mocking by friends and colleagues in office. Gym goers stated, “Some of the boys say their belly is now protruding they should reduce it” and “Male friends do expect from their married male friends to be in shape. They are being joked about, that after getting married you have gone fat and turned into uncle.” A protruding belly is also linked with the image of being an uncle, which is negatively perceived in Pakistani society. Besides, even though males are being conveyed about their increased lower body mass by friends and spouses, it is known by a respondent, aged 30, that not everyone can suggest their male partners to look after themselves; it is not considered appropriate in this culture.
“In Pakistan, expectation is not held for boys. Those girls who have enough understanding with their husbands can convey them to get smart. Else it is disliked by male figures to be pointed out on their body image.” A gym-goer highlighted in discussions that in a male dominant society it is uncomfortable for a female partner to frankly ask or demand her husband to get back in shape. He is thought of as authoritative figure and head of family so whatever he is about, it should be enough. Unless you have sufficient frankness between each another, then you can show this wish else, these expectations are not to be openly shown by females in many cases.
Body expectations for females
Expectations that are held for females according to male respondents result in positive preoccupation or it is a let go stance for some. “Some girls try to get back in shape while others are not concerned (age 24)”, whereas “Sometimes girls get successful in shaping their bodies and sometimes they do not” (shared by a male interviewee, aged 29). The percentage of being successful and unsuccessful in looking after one’s body after marriage was dependent on differing factors according to our findings. Men believed it is either the will of a female to look after their body and if they are willing, nothing can stop them. On the other hand, discussions revealed that married life responsibilities and looking after home, kids and husbands were enough to drain her energy at the end of the day. Rest was to be opted on exercise.
Moreover, expectations are also not fulfilled because of the reproduction intensity, “Girls cannot fulfill these expectations. In 1st
year of marriage there is a kid, then again in 2nd
year of marriage there is kid, body get ruined” as shared by a 27-years old. Our study findings suggest that in this culture, women after marriage are concerned to have babies, since it is a belief that with the arrival of baby the marriage bond gets strong and women feel secure. Research also shows that children are a reason of making marriage more valuable in the eyes of a spouse, as their mere presence signifies a long-term commitment, which is deemed to reinforce the stability of marriage (Del Bono, Ermisch, & Francesconi et al., 2012
Business and educated class were asserted to hold expectation for a healthy or in shape body in their female counterpart. A respondent (aged 29) said,
Educated boys do expect it from girls and even business oriented people. Majority of them have this concern that a girl should be healthy and not over weight. If a wife will be healthy she can easily produce healthy kids.
It was substantiated by Pakistani culture that a healthy partner can produce healthy babies and an obese mate will always attract diseases as well as problem in conceiving successfully. In this society, almost every negative and the objectionable characteristic is associated with the fat body, from social stigma to diseases. Moreover, health problems and diseases such as knee problems, blood pressure, sugar, and conceiving complications due to overweight body type are also other factors. The first thing doctors advise to obese or fat people is that they should lose their weight first and everything will fall back into place.
Lastly, it was validated that expectations were held from those females, who used to look after their bodies before marriage too (gym trainer, aged 22)”, as compared to unconcerned ones.
Body anticipation for males
Different factors were identified when it comes to list of anticipated features. “Toned body is also expected from boys and in my case I believe I will look after my body” (27-year-old gym goer). The interview stated that a person who is into fitness before marriage would continue this regime no matter what. On the contrary, “Money is just expected from guys after marriage,” stated by an interviewee (age 24) since all major needs are fulfilled by money these days. According to respondents, females simply feel secure if a man is well settled. It is the status of male, job stability, money, and nature, which is significant. Research also shows that social status is generally more significant for men’s attractiveness than for women’s (Buss & Barnes, 1986
Referencing back to Buss (1998)
findings, which highlighted financial status of man linked with provision for children, our study findings did not follow it. It was found by our study that it was believed and held that the attractiveness of a well settled man with sound financial status was appreciated because basic needs are fulfilled without difficulty. The provision for children did not get mention by males even when they were presenting their perception of women views.
Finally, yet importantly, even though men were too expected to be in shape after marriage by some women, but not having enough time because of list of duties was enough to justify men’s lack of interest for body care.
Perception of gym-goers
Based on focus group discussion and interviews that was primarily done for our study, it was found that gym goers were most likely to have this attitude that they will look after their bodies after marriage too as compared to general society. It was affirmed by men that those who show concern for their physical appearance, they have this tendency to continue this regime in any time of their life. Body image for them is not only about keeping one self in shape, but also remaining fit and functional.
It was shared by the gym goers that body image does not matter for traditional community who specially do not go to gym or indulge in strength training because they are not concerned with where their body is going. This attitude, behavior, and thinking also get highly affected after marriage for them. Now they have a reason not to do any work out, it is a great excuse because great responsibilities are on their shoulders. Who is concerned with a barbell weight on their shoulders?
Regarding females, the same attitude persists for them as well. Those women who are concerned for their bodies will train it after marriage too, no matter how many babies they have. It is like an old saying, where there is a will there is a way. If a woman or even a man does not wish to exercise even those who did before marriage, they will say children or job is taking up their time. However, to the most part concerning women and men keep on showing love and care for their bodies no matter what the situation.
Lastly, I would like to highlight that when body forms are expected by culture and society then objectification takes place on diverse degrees. In this process, women suffer more as compared to men, in the light of male interviewee’s perceptions.
Gender differences in objectification
According to men’s perception, in Pakistani society, women are seen with the objectifying lens. This objectification is not only limited to their body but what wraps that body also is accounted. With this reference, we would like to quote a gym-goer (aged 26) as he stated,
We want a wife in a veil and a girlfriend in jeans, and yes these are some standards. When it comes to mate selection, we not only see decency in personality but dressing too. However, if its girlfriend then its pleasure and pleasing adornment for them.
According to our study, women’s body is objectified in almost every possible way, from their dressing to different degrees of connotations associated with it. Body of women after marriage is deemed of in terms of modesty but still in shape for some men.
A respondent stated,
She should do household chores as well as outdoor works. Our culture has gone desirous for girls; they expect more and put more burdens on her. Even if a boy is a fat, he will expect his wife to go to the gym, do running, and remain fit appearance wise. Moreover, when she will get fit, they will get insecure that now everyone would see her. I have seen these days’ women are used as an object, which is completely unfair. I hate those guys who treat women as an object. (as stated by a respondent aged 22)
An interviewee also shared that
Boys are objectifying girls in our culture. In the matter of marriage, in rural areas, they will choose the girl who will have a strong and sturdy body to work and walk by their side and perform chores easily. However, in urban culture, people look for outer appearance and objectify girl according to body image and beauty standards. In case of males, mainly after marriage guys pose jokes on the protruding belly of their male married friends and so objectify and make fun of their body in this way. (aged 26)
Respondents of our study believed that unlike females who are highly targeted for objectification, males are nowhere found to be standing in the queue. “In the west, boys are more objectified but here in our society boys have still not come out of girl’s aura” (aged 25). Regardless of everything, males in this society are trapped and impressed by a woman’s mere presence. Whatsoever be happening around them, they are stuck in their sensation for women.6 Another interviewee stated similarly, “Men on other hand are hardly in this boat. Maybe in the west, there are some rare examples but in a male-dominated society like Pakistan, they are rarely objectified or sexualized” (aged 28).
Lastly, when objectification, media and men are a discourse, a great difference in perception comes when Pakistan and patriarchy are added. You will hardly see any magazine cover a seminude Pakistani men’s core7
to show off abs, may be one or two magazine pictures on Google but not on shelves. Men are looking after their bodies because they are into fitness and are impressed from Bollywood actors especially Salman Khan8
for his well-toned built body.
When it is a post-marriage talk, then men’s body is not objectified in the way women’s body is looked at after the marriage. Some men may say that sitting in a 9 to 5 job has made their belly come out or eating consumption has increased because a wife is there to bring it on one call. However, the anxiety is not high with body presentation unlike that in women who stress with post-baby body and a small belly pouch as its aftermath.9
When it comes to sexual objectification, then women are leading as its victim, and men are standing as master. Men are using women bodies after marriage as they own it and marital rape is occasionally being reported.10
However, sexual objectification of women’s bodies was still not blatantly exercised in Pakistani media but it was there. This hindrance was caused by the factor of religion, which associated modesty with women body.
Modesty was also perceived in a contradictory manner in human relations. In the mate selection, objectification was not only prevailing in a sense of bodily form but personality traits too. If it is a short-term relationship, as in girlfriend and boyfriend, a girl in jeans meant for pleasure was sought but when it comes to a woman chosen as a wife, piousness in character and decency of dress were expected.11
Conclusion and discussion
Male respondents of our research have not only given perception about themselves regarding post-body image but they have also shared their opinions regarding female’s body. It was suggested by male interviewees that bodily expectations are not held for females after marriage but if they themselves are showing concern to look after their body, they can, but their husbands will not demand it. Others said that if some girls are concerned for themselves they will try to get back in shape; yet, some others do not have an issue regarding their changed body. It was expressed12
that no one is expecting or compelling a female spouse to transform their body back to leanness for the sake of ideal body image portrayed on media. She has a new role of being a wife or motherhood to justify.
Besides men’s perception of women with regard to their beautified bodies in different dimensions of size and shapes to expectations and responsibilities, respondents associated outer beauty with fiction,13
‘which is just temporary and is meant to satisfy your eyes’. This connotes that outer beauty simply exists at a superficial level that diminishes with the passage of time. People are taught to “never judge a book by its cover”; however, the reality is usually quite the opposite when some responses were recorded. Our study has revealed that attractive individuals get favored especially for marriage proposals and this message is repeatedly propagated by society and media targeting women.14
Family, friends, and media are a source of motivation and anxiety in appearance-related concerns but nobody has reached the point of body disorder yet in our respondents except temporary despair of not seeing the scale budge. The self, played a little role in some of the respondents, it was more in gym-goers, but a collective self has played a great role in many. For the most part, body concern was not out of health motive but rather showing off or achieving a certain end, i.e. in matter of women it was marriage proposal.
According to men, after marriage, expectations are held for women regarding their body but it depends how they respond to that anticipation. Some of the women look after their bodies out of expectations held by in-laws, which is directly observable in the culture in which we live in. However, others do not show concern because now they have responsibilities to look after and fulfill, from family to kids and kitchen. Males then again, always have an upper hand because it is identified that it is a male-dominant society.
We would like to quote a previous research, which states that 25% of male respondents displayed moderate to severe forms of body dissatisfaction (Tariq & Ijaz, 2015
). Our study has highlighted that body dissatisfaction was hardly an issue except the appearance of protruding belly, which was seen as disapproving and considered undesirable according to single men perceptions. Moreover, when it comes to gym goers and body image, body modification was mostly based out of self-interest and fitness concern. The most common methods of it were weight lifting and steroids to gain muscles. No surgery or any other medical treatment was pointed.
The results of our study did not follow Rohlinger’s (2002)
study, which highlighted advertising of men in increasingly objectifying way. In Pakistani media, the focus is not much on men’s objectification particularly exposing of their bodies or sexual appeal. They are highlighting their strong financial status.
The findings of our research also indicate that the cultural and societal expectation of a person’s perfect body has its significant impact on thinking patterns and attitude of both genders. It can be understood in the way that understanding of fatness versus fitness, overweight versus smart healthy body is said to be the leading factors, which influence genders to involve themselves in their finest of bodily representation and manifestation as highlighted by our study. Society has told what fitness is and being fit is eventually desired, and culture has played its role in supporting it.
Results of the study also state that judgmental attitude is not much held towards male’s body because their beauty is not the top priority in choosing a mate but rather their status and financial strength get considered. Society, in which patriarchy and male dominance prevail at its peak, is certified to play with female gender in every possible way.
The research results have validated the significance of patriarchy and the empowerment it has linked with men’s body in Pakistan. The reality is surprising, as we would like to highlight that even though purity and virtuousness are linked with a covered female body, men have learned to master their body in unimaginable ways.
Being a Muslim country, Muslim men and women are advised to lower the gaze, yet incidents have been reported in news that men are showing their genitals to teenagers traveling by school buses or standing on their way outside educational institutions to harass young girls. According to the claim, it is to show their power, lust, and dominancy. Apparently, Pakistan was made on the foundation of Islam but when concerning body then all the body rules are only for females. If females raise their voice for their body rights, they are tagged with feminist label, which is considered objectionable in Pakistan. If men show their genitals, which is surely a harassment, it is not even reported. Patriarchy does exist, but above that, the Islamic state exists. However, the state itself is seeing cases in which women are killed in the name of honor killing, e.g. a celebrity name Qandeel Baloch was killed by her own brother in 2016 because she was posting raunchy pictures of her body on instagram (Boone, 2017
Future research implications
The results of our study15
propose that men and body image are mostly about muscle formation. In-depth research needs to be conducted on married men to get a firsthand knowledge of this information, which is being perceived by unmarried males. Questions like, what are the reasons for indulging in the workout routine after marriage and is it adopted by all or some men? Is body fitness only a concern for gym-goers or is also sought by those who do not go to the gym? These questions need to be asked because the unmarried men’s perceptions in our study have shown that those who carry fitness routine before marriage continued it later as well and these are mostly those who are gym-goers. Moreover, another question arises out of research findings that the flirty quality is associated with looking after one’s body after marriage especially in men. It was believed that those who look after their body post marriage desire to look young so that they can attract women. This is a claim held by female respondents (not included in this research article) and male respondents of the study.
Women’s beauty and men’s status played their role in determining the beauty of individuals, our study findings being consistent with earlier studies. The beauty system theory tries to explain the close link between women and beauty in our culture. Men are attractive by virtue of status and power, or simply by being men. Femininity, on the other hand, is associated with the efforts women make to become attractive (De Grazia & Furlough, 1996
). Moreover, if women were being rejected on their marriage proposal because of short height, then some families were also accepting them with this exception.16
Men were chosen for their status for the most part but some were rejected on their baldness too, a judgment regarded for its utmost form. Baldness in males was mostly seen with judgmental and pejorative eyes. It gives an effect of someone who is older in age, and this perception was considered unattractive. However, women may wish to have a matured male partner but they still desire a man to have an aura of a handsome young male.
This means, “He should not be bald because he will appear older than his age,” said by a 25-year-old. It was found that those who are losing their hair naturally might feel anxiety about their hair loss; the stereotypes of those who are bald are, for the most part, negative.
Lastly, single men are learning primarily from their homes, while keeping the beautiful concept of future bride in their minds, who is the epitome of beauty, morals,17
and a smart body. The learning affects some but the background message remains, yet many of the men talked about inner beauty of a mate, which matters at the end of the day. Appearance and physical attractiveness may form positive first impression and is considered significant pre and post marriage. However, when it is body and post marriage, unmarried men have declared that beautiful shaped body is admired, but along with that if the heart is beautiful that is the best package one can have. Some demand wives to be in shape, some show flexibility towards their body image and say that priorities and responsibilities have changed, so let the body be at rest.
Limitations of the study
Our research also had some limitations, which we would like to address so that any future study on this topic can fill up the gaps easily. Firstly, the sample involved late adolescence and early adulthood; we think any future study could involve early adolescence and late adulthood. Secondly, the sample size and status, i.e. being married of those who went to the gym could be increased to have an in-depth knowledge of fitness regime and post-marriage routine. Thirdly, female married individuals could act as an interesting sample whose body image and concept of beauty can be studied in the marriage phase of life. Moreover, the effects of pregnancy can be studied on the female body along with their own attitude and those of people around them towards it. Fourthly, indigenous comprehension of rural people can also enormously contribute to the meaning of beauty and body image in that setting. Lastly, consideration of class, ethnicity, wealth factors, or socioeconomic backgrounds could be considered while studying these concepts.