Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"I Just Gotta Have My Own Space!": The Bedroom as a Leisure Site for Adolescent Girls

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"I Just Gotta Have My Own Space!": The Bedroom as a Leisure Site for Adolescent Girls

Article excerpt


During mid-adolescence, girls are considerably less fit than boys and are generally less physically active. Many are unhappy with their body image and a large number drop out of sport, never to take it up again (Australian Sports Commission, 1991; Feingold & Mazzella, 1998; Robinson & Godbey, 1993). A large South Carolina study found that adolescent girls spent significantly more time alone than boys did and that boys spent much more time in physical activity (Smith, 1997). A survey of 15 year old Australian girls in 1995 found that girls perceived many active recreational spaces (places normally associated with active pursuits) to be dominated by boys, and it was suggested that this may affect whether they participate in active recreation or not (James, 1998). When girls are absent from active recreational spaces, they must go somewhere. This article explores girls' use of their bedrooms as an alternative recreational space. It also questions whether a girl's decision to recreate in her bedroom is a real choice. For some it may be an act of resistance against societal expectations, for others it may be the "line of least resistance."

The initial study was conducted in 1995, to ascertain adolescent girls' attitudes to a range of public and private recreational spaces in the community, and whether these contexts affected their recreational participation (James, 1998). (Leisure and recreation are used interchangeably here to refer to freely chosen, intrinsically motivated experiences that may be active or passive.) The study surveyed 276 fifteen-year-old girls from 10 socioeconomically diverse Western Australian high schools. They were asked how they felt about 20 listed recreational spaces in schools, the community, and the home. The findings showed that girls felt most self-conscious in the active public spaces of the school basketball courts, followed by public swimming pools. Girls claimed that they would use these spaces more if boys were not around. In contrast, they felt least self-conscious in the comparatively passive space of the bedroom, a place they most chose to be in (James, 1998). We felt it was important to explore the reasons behind these findings because of the implications for physical health and long term leisure choices. The following year, the qualitative study reported here was conducted, using a subset of girls from the original study.

The follow-up study explored the reasons for the attitudes of the girls, then 16 years old, towards three recreational spaces in particular: school basketball courts, public swimming pools, and their bedrooms. We found that many girls avoided active spaces such as the school basketball courts because of fear of ridicule due to their lack of athletic competence or fear of injury (James, 1999). Many girls also felt uncomfortable at public pools where the pressure to meet unrealistic ideals of body shape constrained or eliminated their participation (James, 2000). This article presents the findings regarding the bedroom, the third space chosen for further exploration. The bedroom was chosen because of assumed physical health implications of girls' strong preference for this "passive space" (predominantly associated with minimal physical activity), over more "active" recreational spaces in the community.

Theoretical Considerations

This study draws on works from several disciplines such as sociology, environmental psychology, and urban geography. The literature has been clustered under three themes: situational body image, physical factors, and control factors.

Situational Body Image Factors

The works of Goffman (1959; 1967) are useful in explaining girls' feelings about their appearance in public, which in turn may affect their desire to spend their time in the private space of their bedrooms. Goffman (1959) introduced the notion of the "presentation of self," portraying people as performers whose behavior forms a particular impression on an "audience. …

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