The body is considered central concern in the field of Health and Physical Education (HPE). Professionals in this area work with bodies, study bodies and educate about bodies. It is a profession with a particular embodied identity. This particular group of individuals describe particular discourses with regard to the body which can be readily conveyed to their students in intentional and unintentional ways through pedagogical encounters.
When students begin an undergraduate program in HPE, they bring with them particular constructions, ideas and beliefs about their own bodies and about the body in general. Throughout their degree programme there is a privileging of specific ways of thinking about and knowing the body mainly informed by epistemologies grounded in the discourses of science and scientific method. How HPE professionals think about and relate to their bodies is important in terms of how they think about their professional practice (see Tinning, 2010) and recent research by Yager and O’Dea (2009) is particularly troubling in this regard. Their findings revealed that HPE pre-service teachers have an increased susceptibility to negative body image and have higher levels of body dissatisfaction, dieting, disordered eating and exercise disorders than their same age non-HPE student peers.
The aim of this thesis is therefore to explore how a group of undergraduate Human Movement Studies (HMS) students think about and consider the body. The research questions are as follows,
• What attitudes to the body do HMS (Education) students describe?
• What discourses seem to be informing their attitudes to the body?
• How do these discourses inform their ideas of professional practice as HPE teachers?
Adopting a poststructuralist perspective informed by the work of Michel Foucault, particularly with his concepts of ‘discursive formation’, ‘normalisation’ and ‘surveillance’, I explore how these HPE undergraduates came to shape their particular discourses towards the body across time. The combination of interviews, story writing and photo elicitation allowed me to access and engage with the complexities and contradictions of undergraduate understandings and experiences of the body within its cultural context.
Results show that many of these undergraduate students were heavily influenced by the healthism discourse (Crawford, 1980), carrying significant consequences in the way that they understand, live and experience the body. They tend to self-surveil and monitor their bodies in extreme ways and have a strong fat phobia bias. While some of the HMS courses they study in their HPE degree have reinforced participants’ beliefs and thoughts regarding the body and HPE, some others have disrupted or challenged their ways of thinking. However, none of the participants offered resistance to the dominant discourses of HMS courses. Additionally, through the method of photo elicitation it was possible to discover the ‘invisibility’ of whiteness and gender in the responses of participants.
The main findings of this thesis have implications for how HPE undergraduates think about and relate to the body, and how this is important in terms of how they think about their professional practice and the influence they might have on students. It is suggested that further research with other similar cohorts in Health and Physical Education undergraduate contexts would be an important extension of this study.