Young Lebanese-Canadian Women's Discursive Constructions of Health, Obesity, and the Body

Title: Young Lebanese-Canadian Women's Discursive Constructions of Health, Obesity, and the Body
Authors: Abou-Rizk, Zeina
Date: 2012
Abstract: Using feminist poststructuralist and postcolonial lenses, I explore how young Lebanese-Canadian women construct health, obesity, and the body within the context of the dominant obesity discourse, which over-emphasizes supposed links between inactivity, nutrition, obesity, and health. Participant-centered conversations were held with 20 young Lebanese-Canadian women between the ages of 18 and 25. The conversational texts were analyzed according to two consecutive methods: a thematic analysis which allowed us to focus on what the participants had to say about health, obesity, and the body followed by a poststructuralist discourse analysis which helped us to decipher how the participants spoke about these topics. The findings of this study attest that the young women construct health, obesity, and the body as matters of individual responsibility. They speak about achieving health and avoiding overweight/obesity through disciplinary practices such as rigorous physical activity and proper dietary restrictions. The participants also construct health in close linkage with the physical appearance of the body; moreover, they conflate the “healthy” and “ideal” female body, which they represent as thin. As such, the young women reject “fat” and portray obesity as a disease, a matter of lack of will, and an “abnormal” physical appearance. Finally, the young Lebanese-Canadian women report their involvement in various practices such as restriction of the quality and quantity of their nutritional intake, rare and non-organized forms of physical activity, and problematic practices such as the use of detoxes, dieting pills, and compulsive exercise, all in the name of health. Throughout this study, I highlight the participants’ multiple and shifting subjectivities: While the young Lebanese-Canadian women most often construct themselves as free neoliberal subjects re-citing elements of dominant neoliberal discourses (of self-authorship, self-responsibility for health, traditional femininity, and obesity), they at times construct themselves as “poststructuralist” subjects showing awareness of, and “micro-resistance” to such discourses. The impacts of the Lebanese and Lebanese-Canadian cultures on the participants’ constructions of health, obesity, and the body comprise an important part of this thesis. The participants accentuate the major importance of beauty and physical appearance—particularly not being fat—in the Lebanese and Lebanese-Canadian cultures. However, they also attempt to distance themselves from “Lebanese” ways of thinking about health, obesity, and the body, and in doing so they replicate homogeneous representations of Lebanese, Lebanese-Canadian, and Canadian women. I offer practical suggestions to inform health and obesity interventions that target Lebanese-Canadian women and women from ethnic minorities and I discuss future research possibilities that may stem from the present thesis.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -
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