Work It Out: Three Case Studies Examining Dance and Girls' Body Image in Early Adolescence
Paolantonio, Deanna Olga
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For young girls, the self-disciplining of their physical bodies, both in their use and appearance, has resulted in the prevalence of body image issues. Supported by extensive literature on body image, I argue that young girls learn that their self-worth as future women is tied to the evaluation of their bodies as aesthetically pleasing, reproductively able, and representative of conventional femininity. In this dissertation, I detail a new approach to teaching dance to girls in schools who are on the cusp of becoming teenagers through a specially designed program, Work It Out. This program aims to account for the performative nature of gender (Butler 1990) and the prevalence of beauty sickness (Engeln-Maddox 2005) among adolescent girls through self-reflexive, embodied play activities. This teaching strategy applies the inherently expressive nature of creative dance and choreography to girls experience of their bodies and body image. Work It Out fills a pedagogical gap in current body image programming options for girls provided by existing programs. While these other programs have brought the issue of girls body image to the attention of mainstream media, they do not adequately address the issue of girls body image in an inclusive, girl-centered, expressive, flexible, or reflexive way. Through a series of three case studies conducted in a coeducational public school, a girls-only private school, and a type one diabetic girls-only recreational setting, I address the following questions: Can dance, as a form of embodied play, assist girls aged 11 to 14 in grappling with the body image issues that frequently occur in adolescence? Which pedagogical strategies have the potential to foster a more positive corporeal self-conceptualization? And how can educators use dance in a range of settings to encourage positive body image? Overall, this research shows that in these three distinct settings, educators invested in fostering positive body image need to attend to the following three fundamental concepts: body functionality, belonging, and body-based ideals. If girls learn to appreciate their bodies functionality, forge a stronger sense of belonging, and diversify their body-based ideals, they will be empowered to re-conceptualize their body image in a positive way.