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Menís Lifestyle Magazines and the Construction of Male Identity by Ross Horsley

Ross Horsley's PhD project, completed in 2005, explored young men's notions of masculinity by asking them to create a front cover, and a contents page, for 'a men's magazine that they would like to read, but which they also think would appeal to men in general'. This leads to findings about the nature of masculinities today, and the appeal of men's magazines.

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Summary of the thesis

This thesis seeks to investigate young men’s understanding of masculinity as part of their own developing identities, and how this may be related to wider constructions of masculinity in the media, with particular reference to lifestyle magazines aimed at men.

The increased popularity of men’s magazines since the mid-1990s is examined, and the genre itself analysed both within a context of previous studies into male representations in the media, and against a backdrop of the more established, equivalent line of research into women’s magazines. Notions of gender identity are brought under scrutiny, as the concept of masculinity is explored in terms of ‘performances’ linked to gender, sexuality and societal expectations.

A discussion of recent ‘creative’ research projects introduces the original methodology undertaken as part of this study. Young, predominantly male readers of men’s magazines were encouraged to produce ‘scripts’ – which consisted of an illustrated front cover and contents listing – detailing an imagined lifestyle magazine of their own. 100 such scripts were collected, with participants based in Doncaster, Preston, Wigan and Leeds, and drawn primarily from high schools, colleges and a prison. The material they produced, together with their own written discussion of this work and their wider experience of men’s magazines, formed a body of research data upon which further conclusions are based.

A relationship is hypothesized between young men’s apparently heightened interest in forms of gossip surrounding media celebrities, and an increasing awareness of their own sense of masculinity as something that is personally constructed and purveyed. It is suggested that new men’s lifestyle magazines, with their frequent demonstrations of ‘ironic performances’ and ‘edited personalities’, both facilitate and reflect this process.

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Above: author Ross Horsley

Above: some magazine covers designed by project participants