PICTURE PERFECT? GAZING INTO GIRLS’ HEALTH, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, AND NUTRITION THROUGH PHOTOVOICE
Spencer, Rebecca Ann
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Adolescent girls are faced with challenges and contradictions regarding their health. They face pressure to be perceived as feminine and pretty, but also athletic, and yet are criticized for being perceived as too sporty or muscular, and equally so for being perceived as lazy or overweight. These complex issues, perpetuated through media and discourses of obesity and healthism, relate to the health of girls and young women, and more specifically, their physical activity and nutrition. Using a feminist poststructural approach and photovoice methodology, the purpose of this study is to comprehensively explore adolescent girls’ and young women’s physical activity and nutrition, through exploration of how their perceptions contend with social and cultural relations, how those perceptions intersect with gender, and how the body is constructed in those contexts. Photovoice methodology allows researchers to see through the eyes of their participants, enables community reflection, promotes critical dialogue, and sparks change. The participatory photovoice process involved conducting a training workshop, which was followed by two-week periods to collect photos, and two follow up analysis sessions. The participatory process of analysis engaged the participants (n=7, ages 13-26) through selection of impactful photos; contextualization, or critically discussing them; and codifying, or engaging in participatory thematic analysis. The photovoice process resulted in three themes identified with participants: First, (Breaking) Stereotypes, in which the participants identified how they are influenced by common gender norms, and the resultant conflicts and contradictions they negotiate; Second, the importance of Emotional Safety, or the contexts and circumstances in which girls and young women feel safe, confident, and comfortable; Finally, Being Outside in Nature emerged as significant and meaningful for the participants. Each theme is related to health, physical activity, and nutrition, and supported by quotations and photographs. This project addresses several gaps in the literature and transcends traditional research methodologies using a participatory and visual health promotion approach. This work suggests that being outside in nature provides important context for girls and young women to feel emotionally safe such that they may engage in the complex navigation of competing discourses surrounding their health, nutrition, and physical activity.