Gendered bodies under scrutiny: women’s embodied experiences of aquatic physical activity in the United Kingdom

Williams, Rachel K. and Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn and Evans, Adam (2014) Gendered bodies under scrutiny: women’s embodied experiences of aquatic physical activity in the United Kingdom. In: Changing Landscapes in Sport: dynamics, hybridities and resistance, 6th-10th May 2014, Utrecht, Netherlands.

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Gendered bodies under scrutiny: Women’s embodied experiences of aquatic physical activity in the United Kingdom
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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
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Abstract

Aquatic activity remains the second most popular form of exercise in the UK. Despite the delivery recent participation-based programmes, however, aquatic activity continues to be dominated by older women, and younger women participating with younger children. Moreover, the embodied experiences and lived meaning of participation in aquatic activity remain under-investigated. This paper presents results from five interview-based studies investigating women’s embodiment and aquatic activity. In total, 55 women were interviewed across the research programme. A number of key themes emerged, highlighting the centrality of the gendered, lived body as a key social construct contouring participant perceptions in the swimming pool environment. Feelings of anxiety and angst were reported in relation to women’s self-perceived physical deficiencies when wearing revealing swimming costumes, particularly under the critical gaze of ‘other’ bodies, whether present or imagined. Both younger and older women objectified and contrasted their bodies with those of other participants, often in a negative manner. As a consequence self-exclusion from ‘mainstream’ (i.e. mixed gender) aquatic activity was common. The shifting nature of intercorporeality emerged in the findings, with the presence of the ‘dependent’ bodies of infants shifting bodily intentionality away from the self towards others, particularly in view of perceived maternal responsibilities. Both participants’ bodies and the bodies of dependent others were perceived to be at risk of environmental and physical dangers in the swimming pool environment. Perceived risks were corporeally grounded in sensory elements of participation, relating to temperature and the threat of water and ‘dirt’ breaching bodily boundaries. Ongoing research into the implications of such sensory perceptions upon postnatal women and children’s participation in aquatic activity will also be outlined.

Keywords:Aquatic Physical Activity, Leisure, Michel Foucault, Postnatal Women, Embodiment
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C600 Sports Science
L Social studies > L300 Sociology
L Social studies > L216 Feminism
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Sport and Exercise Science
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ID Code:13918
Deposited On:12 May 2014 07:44

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