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Healthy bodies, boys and body image: An examination of male students’ reluctance to participate in compulsory grade nine physical education classes

Michael Kehler The University of Western Ontario



Concerns for inactive and obese youth have prompted swift action to promote health and physical activity in schools, yet links between masculine identities and the bodily practices of boys who reluctantly participate within the physical education context are not addressed in current policies or practices. This research examines the intersections of health, masculinity and schooling. Specifically, the researchers question why some males, particularly grade nine boys, reluctantly participate in mandatory physical education classes in three different provinces across Canada ( British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia).

Qualitative research methodology will be used to investigate how boys’ understandings of masculinities influence health practices in schools. During this three year study, investigators will conduct semi-structured interviews, field observations of participants in physical education classes and invite participants to write journal-type responses in a secure blog site. This multi-method approach will facilitate the participants’ recounting stories, experiences and feelings, thereby illustrating what they understand about body image, what it means to be a boy among boys, how the particular context of physical education classes reflect and support these particular boys’ identities and how these particular boys negotiate their participation and involvement in physical education classes.

The knowledge gained from this research will potentially deepen and more fully explain intersections between masculinities, healthy life practices and physical bodies. In addition, this research has implications for educators, teachers, school curricula developers and health professionals concerned with how masculinities intersect in the field of health and education. Finally, this research has the potential to better explain the negotiation of social and cultural practices of masculinity that underscore messages among students about gender identities, body image and health.

KEY WORDS: health, masculinities, education, obesity, body image

SIRC is funded by Canadian Heritage