Embodying Sporty Girlhood: Health & the Enactment of Successful Femininities

Sheryl Clark, Jessica Francombe-Webb, Laura Palmer

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This paper focuses on young women’s embodiment of health discourses and how these are “played out” in education and sporting contexts where varying physical cultures are en- acted. We draw on data from three qualitative projects that considered girls’ understand- ings of PE, football, and running within the context of their active schooling subjectivities. Health concerns increasingly frame young people’s participation in sport and physical activity and “girls” in particular have been encouraged to be more physically active. In- fluential “healthism” discourses continue to construct compelling ideas about “active cit- izenship” as moral responsibility and within broader, fluid and neoliberal societies young women are seen as the “magic bullet” (Ringrose, 2013) to overcome social issues and complex health problems such as obesity. Through critical feminist inquiry into the mate- rial-discursive rationalities of healthism in postfeminist times our analysis demonstrates that health and achievement discourses form powerful “body pedagogies” in relation to young women’s engagement with sport and physical activity. The body pedagogies we an- alysed were multifaceted in that they focused on performative potential of sport and phys- ical activity in the quest for the ever “perfectible self” (McRobbie, 2007, p. 719), and were also imbued with fear, anxiety and risk related to failure and ‘fatness’. These findings are significant as they show that current responses to “tackle” ill health that mobilise sport and physical activity as simplified and rationalised responses to the “threat” of obesity are problematic because they do not contend with this complexity as young women assem- ble their postfeminist choice biographies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-50
Number of pages17
JournalThresholds in Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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