A Qualitative Assessment of the Significance of Body Perception to Women’s Physical Activity Experiences: Revisiting Discussions of Physicalities

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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This paper builds upon an earlier exploratory discussion about the term physicality that called for conceptual clarity regarding our theoretical understanding and use of it within the context of women’s lives. In light of fieldwork conducted, physicality is suggested to be the complex interplay of body perception, agency, and self-perception. This article focuses on examining one feature of this construct by assessing the relevance of body perception to two groups of women’s experiences of their physicalities through two differently gendered activities: aerobics and wilderness canoe-tripping. Pivotal to this has been qualitatively understanding the lived-body as experienced and understood by the women. In-depth interviews and participant observation were used to explore the meaning and significance these women derived from experiencing their bodies/themselves through these activities. Of specific interest was understanding the effects of these experiences in terms of shaping their understandings of their physicalities particularly beyond that of appearance. Central to this has been apprehending the physically and socially empowering effects of these experiences, especially at the level of their identity. Through the data analysis, body perception was found to be relevant to the women’s physical activity involvement in two distinct ways: as a factor initiating activity involvement and as a perception emerging through the experience. In turn, these differing perceptions of the body were found to impact diversely upon their physicalities, either broadening them or contributing to alternative ways of understanding them.

The author is with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2H9.

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