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Cover Guys: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Representations of Men's Bodies in Popular Magazines for Men

Trenton M Haltom, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Scant research puts magazines into conversation with sociological theories of masculinity or sexuality. Yet, magazines have long projected idealized images of masculinities, the male body, and men’s sexuality. In this dissertation, I examine representations of men in popular magazines, highlighting the multifaceted ways magazines have marketed masculinity and the sexualization of men. Using an explanatory sequential mixed method content analysis, I analyze 38 years (1980–2018; N=2,750) of magazine covers from GQ (n=516), Men’s Health (n=277), and Sports Illustrated (n=1,671). Each cover was coded using a standardized coding form developed for this dissertation. The coding scheme was tested using agreement and alpha intercoder reliability statistics. Additionally, I used multi-phase quantitative and qualitative methodologies to identify underlying constructs and change over time among men on the covers. Exploratory factor analyses identify two underlying constructs around men’s aesthetic characteristics and sexualization. Using multinomial logistic regression, I identify how these factors change over time. In additional analyses, I calculated the Men’s Prevalence of Skin (MPoS) Index and predict the sexualization of men’s bodies over time. In exploratory analyses, I used qualitative, thematic analyses to explore the relationship between cover text and corresponding images. I contextualize findings with popular culture to illustrate how magazines influence or are influenced by social change. Representations of men and masculinity differ across magazines. GQ portrays a kind of man who accounts for their interest in fashion, have “style,” and be “cool.” Men’s Health primarily portrays young, white muscular men who show off their bodies, and are accompanied by text preying on their insecurities. Sports Illustrated, alternatively, portrays a diverse set of men with “winning” masculinities and referred to using violent rhetoric. This dissertation offers a window into how the marketing of American manhood has been siloed into particular categories. My findings demonstrate how these magazines perpetuate controlling images of masculinity that prioritize some groups over others and inform research on gender, sexuality, race, and the body.

Subject Area

Sociology|Gender studies|Sexuality|Aesthetics

Recommended Citation

Haltom, Trenton M, "Cover Guys: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Representations of Men's Bodies in Popular Magazines for Men" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28712764.