Embodying Sporty Girlhood: Health and the Enactment of "Successful" Femininities

Francombe-Webb, Jessica; Clark, Sheryl and Palmer, Laura. 2020. Embodying Sporty Girlhood: Health and the Enactment of "Successful" Femininities. Thresholds in Education, 43(1), pp. 33-49. ISSN 0196-9641 [Article]

Clark, S., Francombe-Webb, J., Palmer, L. (2020) Embodying Sportly Girlhood.pdf - Published Version
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Abstract or Description

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 enacted. We draw on data from three qualitative projects that considered girls’ understandings 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. Influential “healthism” discourses continue to construct compelling ideas about “active citizenship” 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 material-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 analysed were multifaceted in that they focused on performative potential of sport and physical 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 assemble their postfeminist choice biographies.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


15 May 2020Accepted
1 October 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

19 Oct 2020 10:05

Last Modified:

19 Oct 2020 10:50

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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