"I don't want to be skinny, I just want to be fit' Healthism discourse and girls' participation in physical activity

Clark, Sheryl. 2015. '"I don't want to be skinny, I just want to be fit' Healthism discourse and girls' participation in physical activity'. In: Feminisms, Power and Pedagogy: 10th Biennial Conference of the Gender and Education Association. University of Roehampton, United Kingdom. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper explores girls’ embodied experiences of sport and physical education (PE) within the context of wider obesity discourses. In recent years, sport and PE have increasingly been promoted within a ‘healthism’ incentive characterised by interventions aimed at changing behaviours around eating and exercise such as change4life, and the Healthy Schools initiative. ‘Healthism’ has been used to describe a broad social incentivisation towards individual responsibility for bodily health through preventative measures.

Accordingly, the bodies of young people have become the targets of such interventions and fears around obesity provide an influential framing of young people’s participation in sport and PE. My research with young women over the transition to secondary school found that girls’ participation in sport and PE was frequently understood as the obligation of a responsible, ‘healthy’ subject thus constructing girls’ participation within a moral narrative replete with feelings of guilt, shame and superiority. I found that a powerful set of healthism discourses framed the girls’ participation in sport and PE allowing them to take part in order to enact or achieve slender embodied femininities. Within the paper I look at the ways in which girls were able to position themselves in relation to healthism discourses in order to regulate one another’s behaviours. The paper is based on longitudinal, qualitative research with girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years that involved interviews with the girls and their parents, teachers and friends as well as observations at the girls’ schools, PE lessons and sporting activities.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies > Centre for Identities and Social Justice


25 June 2015["eprint_fieldopt_dates_date_type_shown" not defined]

Event Location:

University of Roehampton, United Kingdom

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Jul 2015 09:15

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2017 12:25



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