Conference abstract: Girls’ visual and verbal constructions of valued bodies

This is the abstract for a forthcoming presentation: Girls’ visual and verbal constructions of valued bodies: engagement in physical education at the intersections of gender and race

Joanne Hill

Girls can find themselves “othered” in physical education (PE), in relation to discourses of valued bodies that intersect with gender, race and body size to render ethnic minority and fat girls’ embodied experiences invisible against a white male sporty norm. This project adds to work towards inclusive or gender-sensitive PE programmes by engaging girls in creating visual and verbal accounts of how they negotiate valued bodies in PE to form their own sense of self as active or inactive.

This research drew on feminist poststructuralist theories that we embody multiple selves across different spaces, and used a visual ethnographic design. Students aged 13-14 in one school, with a predominantly South Asian population, were provided with a digital camera and invited to create a two-week long photo set of the physical activities they engage in, where and with whom. Group interviews followed, during which the participant-photographers explained their photos’ meanings to each other and to the researcher. This paper specifically draws together analysis on girls’ constructions of themselves as active and inactive, free or constrained, in different physical activity spaces within and beyond the school. Girls identified valued bodies as those that give significant effort in PE, rather than those that are sporty and competitive. They also discussed fit, fat and muscular bodies and femininity. Some girls resisted normative gender relations and racialised girlhood; they reclaimed team games and public spaces as enjoyable; and negotiated an active identity in relation to more sporty peers and images of high status athletes. Reflections are also made on the value of visual methods for engaging young people in inquiry on the body.


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