Women’s embodied experiences of fitness: an ethnographic study of women who participate in a mixed gendered UK gym

PhD Thesis

Clark, A. 2018. Women’s embodied experiences of fitness: an ethnographic study of women who participate in a mixed gendered UK gym. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences
AuthorsClark, A.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification namePhD

Although female sporting bodies have been theorised through a range of ‘feminist prisms’ most explorations have been undertaken using approaches that focus on discursive cultural practices, rather than attempt to accommodate corporeal ways of being. Consequently, there remains a paucity of empirical research that allows the embodied realities that women experience to be captured and then interpreted in the light of current knowledge about the body.

Bearing this in mind, the thesis seeks to ‘enflesh’ the sensuous, embodied realities that women experience through their bodies in a range of fitness cultures. A four year ethnographic study was conducted in a mixed gendered gym in the South-East of England. In conjunction with an ethnographic approach, an interpretation of feminist phenomenology was included in order to analyse the structural, cultural and historically located nature of gendered embodiment, and reveal the corporeal and ‘fleshy’ aspects of both the researcher and the participants whilst immersed in the gym.

Findings suggest that female gym users shape understandings of their embodied selves through their experiences in the specific gym spaces they engage in as well as the broader social constructions of the gendered body. Furthermore, insights are provided into the variety of pleasurable aspects that emanate whilst exercising, the complex ways in which gender is performed (particularly through the body), and the distinct gazes (of other participants) identified in the gym. Lastly, revelations of how the women negotiate sexism and banter within the gym environment are also highlighted. Reflections from the overall findings elucidate how unique embodied experiences are created, and demonstrate how the women’s experiences are entwined through particular spatial and temporal aspects that have varying degrees of impact upon how the women ultimately experience their own bodies and fitness cultures.

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Publication process dates
Deposited20 Jun 2019
Output statusUnpublished
Accepted author manuscript
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