An Intersectional Feminist Analysis Towards Student Body Image Dis/satisfaction in Alberta Schools

  • Author / Creator
    Khakh, Anita
  • Scholars have argued that anti-obesity health discourses currently pervade Canadian schools and detrimentally impact students’ mental and physical health (Robertson & Scheidler-Benns, 2016). Although schools across the country ubiquitously deploy these discourses, it is important to understand how they actually affect students and what students make of them. This study takes as its premise that the ways in which anti-obesity discourses affect students is nuanced and dependent on a multiplicity of intersecting factors, such as gender, race, socioeconomic status and dis/ability, to name a few. Anti-obesity discourses are problematic because they convey hyper-vigilance over fat bodies and encourage the individualization of responsibility over health while ignoring the interplay of structural, socio-cultural, psychological and biological complexities. Additionally, they exist despite evidence that indicates there are an increasing number of pre-adolescent girls struggling with body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders (Robertson & Thomson, 2012), which have the highest mortality rate among those with mental illness (Leblanc, 2014).
    I aim to address gaps in research that are yet to understand and analyze how current health discourses located in curricular documents affect young people who self-identify as girls across varied and intersecting dimensions of their identity and experience of Canadian school systems. Relying on my experience as an elementary educator with prior work completed in the field of eating disorder prevention, I adopt an intersectional feminist framework, analyzing how grade six girls construct their body image dis/satisfaction in the province of Alberta, where body image is thoroughly integrated across the health and physical education (HPE) curriculum. In this thesis, I conduct a discursive analysis of Alberta’s HPE curriculum documents to delineate the silences, assumptions and constructions of discourses and policies and connect them to the context in which they are grounded. Additionally, I conduct individual, semi-structured interviews with nine students who identify as girls at two schools located in Edmonton, Alberta in order to consider what these students make of the discursive constructions in HPE, as this continues to be an existing gap in research studies. My analysis led me to conclude that grade six girls have internalized anti-obesity and body equitable approaches from HPE curriculum documents, encouraging discursive confusion, body distress and harmful eating/self-monitoring behaviours. This is an outcome, I argue, of an individually focused approach to change in curriculum and pedagogy. I offer curriculum modifications and the implementation of a new policy that mandates school encouragement for building collective spaces for social action, such as “girls clubs,” to reduce the negative implications of current health discourses. Such spaces would allow girls to demand structural changes that address issues such as gender discrimination in ways that places greater responsibility for social transformation onto socio-political and educational institutions rather than individual students. The findings and offerings from this study can help shape future institutional changes to improve body image satisfaction among the multiplicity of students who identify as girls in the province of Alberta.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Education
  • DOI
  • License
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