Fitspiration or Fitsploitation?

Postfeminism, Digital Media and Authenticity in Women’s Fitness Culture

Abstract: Women’s fitness culture is an observably popular phenomenon in the West in gym space, through the prevalence of activewear and even on social media. Women are called to take responsibility for their physical fitness in a way that contests but also actively draws from well-established models of femininity. This thesis asks how and to what effect women’s fitness represents itself as empowering while it reinforces gender roles. I propose that women’s fitness conveys a postfeminist sensibility that is characterised by a neoliberal emphasis on transforming and disciplining the self while presenting this project as a mode of feminist liberation. I use textual analysis supplemented by participant observation in different areas of fitness culture to engage with these ideologies and how they are deployed. Through analysis of different types of fitness subjects, practices and texts including gym selfies, activewear, fit bodies and spaces and queer fitness celebrities, I will argue that women’s fitness culture constructs a fit feminine subject aligned with prevailing cultural values of capitalism, whiteness, heternormativity and an essentialist understanding of gender. However, I acknowledge too that fitness culture is an active and dynamic space where agents can contest and negotiate with these values. While the dominant ideal reading of fitness culture may suggest that its subjects are interpellated to conform to these roles, evidence in this thesis suggests that there is always the possibility of resistance.

Thesis supervisors: Dr Christina Lee and Dr Joanne Jones

Institution at which thesis was completed: Curtin University

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