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Men, muscles and the clean eating movement

Amanda Jones

20 June 2018: Men are uploading more clean eating posts on social media than women, according to new University of Canberra research.

The study by University of Canberra Assistant Professor Dr Michael Walsh and Dr Stephanie Baker from City, University of London examined how gender identities are presented on Instagram using popular clean eating hashtags.

Clean eating is a popular diet based on eating foods perceived to be ‘clean’ and ‘pure’, with the movement used to promote blogs, cook books and exercise programs.

“Clean eating is highly relevant to the study of gender because it is an embodied endeavour, using the body as a system of classification to signify health, status and character,” Dr Walsh said.

In the study, published in the journal New Media & Society, researchers analysed 144 top posts (according to engagement such as likes or comments) that used the hashtags #cleaneating and #eatclean. They found that the images overwhelmingly focused on the effects of clean eating, more specifically the body, rather than images of food.

The most surprising finding, however, was the prevalence of men posting about clean eating.

“Given the weight-loss industry’s focus on women, we expected them to feature more frequently in clean eating posts than men,” Dr Walsh said.

Less than a quarter (24 per cent) of top posts included images of food. Instead, men flexed their muscles to demonstrate the positive impact of clean eating.

“In almost all instances, the users would present themselves as visibly healthier, happier and more attractive as a result of their lifestyle, making a connection between lifestyle, appearance and identity,” Dr Walsh added.

He said that adopting a healthy diet on Instagram was depicted not only as an individual choice but also “as a means of collective membership into a community with other like-minded individuals”.

“Despite the common assumption that social media allows for more fluid expressions of identity, our research found that the top posts conformed to hegemonic, or dominant conceptions of gender.”