• Framing Fitness: Gender, Experts, Popular Magazines, and Healthism

      Ericksen, Julia A., 1941-; Kidd, Dustin; Wray, Matt, 1964-; Wells, Susan, 1947- (Temple University. Libraries, 2015)
      I examined the extent to which Bourdieu's field theory applied to the fitness industry through analysis of magazine content and interviews with a variety of field participants. I found that the processes through which people come to understand and define fitness in different ways, and, at times, develop contradictory positions on the importance and benefits of fitness are in concert with Bourdieu's theory. I argue that in addition to the historical macro forces identified by other scholars as shaping the fitness industry, endogenous field dynamics propel the field in new directions. Four broad conceptions of fitness emerged: (1) fitness as health; (2) fitness as functionality; (3) fitness as obligation; and (4) fitness as appearance. Key findings include that fitness magazines' and experts' constructions of fitness relied on gendered biological understandings of the body that promote healthism. Fitness magazines' and experts' discourse equated fitness with gendered versions of personal responsibility, discipline, and moral character and often characterized fitness as a panacea. Magazines (re)produced gendered body ideals and perpetuated the gender binary. Women's magazines' incorporation of feminist empowerment discourse promoted individual-level empowerment while simultaneously perpetuating gender inequality. I identified a few alternative perspectives on fitness that critiqued the mainstream focus on fitness as a weight loss strategy and drew attention to social inequalities that result from idealizing particular body forms. I identified competition within the fitness field among various actors striving to establish legitimacy and secure resources such as social and economic capital. Competition occurred at three levels: the macro (field) level in which the fitness field competed with and against other fields, the mezzo (organizations) level in which institutions competed with each other, and the micro level in which individual experts and practitioners contended for recognition. Magazines and respondents identified various types of "fitness experts" whom I classified into five categories: producing, disseminating, practicing, alternative, and exemplary. I identified seven strategies used by fitness experts to claim expertise and establish legitimacy within the fitness field. These included: (1) social capital; (2) credentialing; (3) name-dropping; (4) using science and referring to scientific research studies; (5) referencing commercial success; (6) referencing personal fitness goal success; and (7) discrediting others. These strategies represent the logic of the fitness field and the struggle to establish associated forms of capital, such as social capital and bodily capital. I observed that because fitness is a commercial field--the industry generates billions of dollars in economic activity annually-- many of these forms of capital can be converted into economic capital. Thus, an appreciation of the economics of fitness provides an important perspective on the competition within the field. I found differences in the fitness habitus among the variety of players and agendas in the fitness field. In other words, people came to fitness with different assumptions about what was "natural" and "desirable"--and indeed, even different definitions of fitness itself. Respondents in the study held different beliefs about how bodies work, the extent to which they can change, the desirability of certain physical forms, whether or not the pursuit of fitness is a morally superior activity, and whether that pursuit is obligatory work or enjoyable leisure. I compared how various experiences and social factors produced differing definitions of fitness and hypothesized that variations in habitus are associated with different desired changes to the fitness industry. As the fitness industry continues to grow, and as public programs increasingly turn to exercise as part of the solution to the "obesity epidemic," more research is needed to understand what messages are available to the public about fitness and which are most important in shaping public perception and debate. Continued attention to how fitness is influenced by and contributes to gendered body ideals is warranted. This project highlights the socially constructed nature of fitness and identifies what factors influence how fitness is understood.