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Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 150–164 | Cite as

“Judging a Body by Its Cover”: Young Lebanese-Canadian Women’s Discursive Constructions of the “Healthy” Body and “Health” Practices

  • Zeina Abou-Rizk
  • Geneviève Rail
Original Paper

Abstract

Our interest stems from the dramatic increase in the number of obesity studies, which expose Canadian women to a huge amount of information that links health to weight. Using feminist poststructuralist and postcolonial lenses, this paper investigates young Lebanese-Canadian women’s constructions of the body and “health” practices within the context of the dominant obesity discourse. Participant-centered conversations were held with 20 young Christian Lebanese-Canadian women. A thematic analysis was first conducted and was followed by a poststructuralist discourse analysis to further our understanding of how the participants construct themselves as subjects within various discourses surrounding health, obesity, and the body. Our findings reveal that most participants conflate the “healthy” body and the “ideal” body, both of which they ultimately portray as thin. The young women construct the “healthy”/“ideal” body as a solely individual responsibility, thus reinforcing the idea of “docile bodies.” The majority of participants report their frequent involvement in disciplinary practices such as rigorous physical activity and dietary restrictions, and a few young women mention the use of other extreme forms of bodily monitoring such as detoxes, dieting pills, and compulsive exercise. We discuss the language employed by participants to construct their multiple and shifting subjectivities. For instance, many of these Lebanese-Canadian women use the term “us” to dissociate themselves from Lebanese women (“them”), whom they portray as overly focused on thinness and beauty and engaged in physical activity and other bodily practices for “superficial” purposes. The participants also use the “us/them” trope to distance themselves from “Canadian” women (read: white Euro-Canadian women), whom they portray as very physically active for purposes beyond the improvement of the physical appearance of the body. We discuss the impacts of the young Christian Lebanese-Canadian women’s hybrid cultural identities and diasporic spaces on their discursive constructions of the body and “health” practices. Finally, we examine the participants’ fluid subject-positions: On one hand, they construct themselves as neoliberal subjects re-citing elements of dominant neoliberal discourses (self-responsibility for health, traditional femininity, and obesity) but, on the other hand, they at times construct themselves as “timid” poststructuralist subjects expressing awareness of, and “micro-resistance” to such discourses.

Keywords

Body Discourse Obesity Women Lebanese Beauty Identity Culture Practices 

Notes

Conflict of interest

There is no conflict of interest that exists in the context of the writing and/or publication of this manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Population HealthUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Simone de Beauvoir InstituteConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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