The body in physical education as interpreted and experienced by adolescent girls in greece

Por: Kathleen Armour e Kyriaki Makopoulou.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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This paper presents some of the insights arising from a research study into adolescent girls’ experiences of the body in Greek physical education. It is argued that physical educators need to better understand how adolescent girls learn to think and feel about their bodies in order to "be better able to create learning opportunities and educational environments that liberate and empower girls to become healthy women" [1]. The findings from this study lend weight to that argument.


The key aim was to ensure that the girls’ voices and concerns about their bodies were at the forefront of the research in order to learn from what they had to say. Such research objectives necessitated the use of in-depth qualitative methods within a case study framework [2]. Data were collected from three case study schools in Athens using focus groups (23 girls), observations (2 PE lessons), and an interview with one of the PE teachers. In addition, the girls kept PE diaries. Narrative analysis of the data was employed in order to capture how the girls’ interpreted the meanings of PE in the context of their wider life experiences [3].


For all the girls who participated in this study there was a powerful understanding that in PE, the body is exposed and vulnerable to others’ gazes and judgments. This results in discomfort and unease, since they feel they are looked at, laughed at, or even rejected by their classmates during PE lessons. The body in PE is also experienced as a site of control and manipulation, i.e. by PE teachers; the girls describe how the teachers force them do things they do not like or regard as ‘stupid’ and ‘useless’. Linked to this are issues of ‘gender’ and comments by the PE teacher confirm the powerful reproduction of ‘gendered subjectivities’ in PE [4]. At the same time, for these young women, the body is part of a self-project; something to be managed and maintained from within in order to meet the requirements of teenage girls’ femininity. However, some of the girls articulate an obsession with the body and thinness, indicating ways in which it is perpetuated and reinforced through the (often well-intentioned) messages heard within PE.

Discussion/ Conclusions

If we fail as educators and scholars to take seriously the ways in which girls’ bodies shape their perceptions of their schooling experiences we miss opportunities to help girls learn to live healthy lives [5]. Physical education did not provide meaningful learning experiences for the girls in this study and this is a concern for the profession.


[1]. Oliver K. L. (1999). ‘Adolescent girls’ body-narratives: learning to desire and create a "fashionable" image’. Teachers College Record, 101 (2), 220-246.
[2]. Stake R.E. (2000). ‘Case studies’. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds). Handbook of Qualitative Research 2nd Edition. London: Sage. 435-486.
[3]. Oliver K. L. (1998). ‘A journey into narrative analysis: A Methodology for Discovering Meanings’. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 17, 244-259.
[4]. Wright J. (2000). ‘Bodies, meanings and movement: a comparison of the language of a physical education lesson and a Feldnkrais movement class’. Sport, Education and society, 5 (1), 35-51.
[5]. Oliver K. L. (2001). ‘Images of the Body from Popular Culture: Engaging Adolescent Girls in Critical Inquiry’. Sport, Education and Society, 6 (2), 143-164.






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