chapter  345
9 Pages

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The early feminist literature on ‘slenderness’, was primarily concerned with women’s relationship with food. As the fitness industry gathered momentum and traditional social constraints on women’s participation in physical activity were relaxed, the desirable female body began to take on a more toned shape. For some feminists this demonstrated that social ideals of femininity had changed to liberate women from restrictive social norms, because the display of muscular strength was no longer unacceptable. Indeed, over the last thirty to forty years, opportunities for women’s participation in sport and other forms of physical activity traditionally associated with men have been radically expanded, a point that should at least lead us to question the simplistic idea, constantly repeated in the popular and scientific literatures, that Western societies have become exercise ‘phobic’. However in terms of women’s appearance, these changes have not been quite so liberating as one might expect. As health came to take on more positive connotations rather than freedom from illness, ‘good health’ came to be associated with personal choices in terms of lifestyle behaviours. As Howell and Ingham (2001: 33) point out, ‘nowhere was this relationship between self-improvement and lifestyle more commonly articulated than on [sic] the exercise and fitness marketplace’. For women, then, health and physical attractiveness were conflated in the appearance of the body; social norms not only required a thin body but also evidence of a worked body.