Women and Exercise: The Body, Health and Consumerism

Women and Exercise: The Body, Health and Consumerism

Women and Exercise: The Body, Health and Consumerism

Women and Exercise: The Body, Health and Consumerism

Synopsis

Exercise for women is a heavily-laden social and embodied experience. While exercise promotion has become an increasingly visible part of health campaigns, obesity among women is rising, and studies indicate that women are generally less physically active than men. Women's (lack of) exercise, therefore, has become a public concern, and physiological and psychological research has attempted to develop more effective exercise programs aimed at women. Yet women have a complex relationship with embodiment and physical activity that is difficult for quantitative scientific approaches to explore. This book addresses this neglect by providing a much-needed feminist, qualitative social analysis of women and exercise. The contributors, drawn from across Europe and North America, investigate the ways women experience exercise within the context of the global fitness industry. All the authors take a specifically feminist perspective in their analysis of the fit, feminine body, exploring media images and the global branding of fitness products, the relationship between exercise and fat, the construction of physical activity within health discourse, and the lived experience of the exercising body. The collection explores the diversity of women's experiences of exercise in relation to age, ethnicity and body size. The book is essential for anyone interested in health promotion, sport and exercise or the social and cultural study of gender and embodiment.

Excerpt

There has been mounting advocacy for physical activity and exercise promotion at a global level and national governments and transnational bodies such as the World Health Organization have begun to incorporate exercise participation into their agendas (Waxman 2004). As Shilton observes, “physical activity has a very diverse (and numerous) constituency of professional allies” (2008, 767). Within academia, such disciplines as exercise physiology and exercise psychology have considered exercise as their core area. Through mainly quantitative examinations, these researchers have focused on the health benefits of exercise. Yet, international studies still report a stubborn gender difference in participation levels—women exercise less than men (TNS Opinion and Social 2010). For many years, feminist research (e.g., Hargreaves 1994) has highlighted women’s complex relationship with embodiment and physical activity. This relationship, rooted in culture, is difficult for quantitative scientific approaches to explore. Yet, qualitative social science analysis has been less prominent in the field of exercise and feminist research even less so. However, the recent fascination of the (feminine) body as a social construction has resulted in a corresponding interest in fitness and exercise from a variety of critical social perspectives. Our book intends to contribute to this growing body of literature that examines the socio-cultural aspects of women’s exercise. In addition, all the authors take a specifically feminist perspective into their analyses of the fit, feminine body. In this introduction, we aim to locate these examinations within the existing socio-cultural literature of women’s fitness which, in general, has focused on two broad topical areas: the media representations of the fit body and the lived experiences of the exercisers. These foci have also resulted in a series of binaries that, rightly or wrongly, tend to characterize feminist research in fitness. To highlight some of these tensions, we first detail the major findings by the fitness media research and then recount feminist research that concentrates on women’s lived experiences within multiple forms of fitness.

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