Body Language

Body Language: Sisters in Shape, Black Women's Fitness, and Feminist Identity Politics

Kimberly J. Lau
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Body Language
    Book Description:

    In her evocative ethnographic study,Body Language, Kimberly Lau traces the multiple ways in which the success of an innovative fitness program illuminates what identity means to its Black female clientele and how their group interaction provides a new perspective on feminist theories of identity politics-especially regarding the significance of identity to political activism and social change.

    Sisters in Shape, Inc., Fitness Consultants (SIS), a Philadelphia company, promotes balance in physical, mental, and spiritual health. Its program goes beyond workouts, as it educates and motivates women to make health and fitness a priority. Discussing the obstacles at home and the importance of the group's solidarity to their ability to stay focused on their goals, the women speak to the ways in which their commitment to reshaping their bodies is a commitment to an alternative future.

    Body Languageshows how the group's explorations of black women's identity open new possibilities for identity-based claims to recognition, justice, and social change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0310-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Anatomy of a Movement
    (pp. 1-38)

    On Friday, March 20, 1998, thePhiladelphia Daily Newspublished an article that would dramatically change the lives of many black women. Written by Marisol Bello and titled “Shape Up, sisters!” the article offered an extensive portrait of Melanie Marchand, a local fitness professional, and one of her clients, Denise Murphy, who had gone from a size 16 to a size 8 over the course of the previous year and a half. For her article, Bello shadowed Melanie and Denise through one of their typical training sessions, interviewed both of them, and described Melanie’s program of weight training, aerobic exercise,...

  5. 2 Experience: Spirituality, Sisterhood, and the Unspeakable
    (pp. 39-76)

    Sisters in shape has been uniquely successful in sustaining black women’s engagement with long-term exercise and dietary changes, and a fundamental part of this success has to do with the organization’s ability to forge a collective consciousness. While the Sisters in Shape program explicitly focuses on the practical aspects of black women’s health and fitness, its simultaneous attention to the broader social and historical forces underlying black women’s disproportionately poor health indicators offers a compelling framework for the Sisters in Shape women’s interpretation of their experiences. Although the idea of consciousness raising may evoke stereotypes of 1970s-era feminist talking circles...

  6. 3 Performance: Negotiating Multiple Black Womanhoods
    (pp. 77-106)

    Perhaps one of the most notable features of the Sisters in Shape women’s collective identity production is its foundation in an ongoing articulation of multiple black womanhoods. At times embracing traditional black gender roles while at other times rejecting or revising them, the Sisters in Shape women continually move between and among different understandings of what it means to be a black woman. In so doing, they imagine and perform a uniquely Sisters in Shape version of black womanhood, a testament to the postmodern conceptualization of identity as discursive performance, the importance of race as an enduring and multivalent category...

  7. 4 New Bodies of Knowledge
    (pp. 107-142)

    Hegemonic ideologies of the body are often rendered visible when “othered” bodies are drawn into dominant discourses, made to serve as points of comparison. For instance, the process by which it has become almost common knowledge that black women are more comfortable with their bodies than are white women reveals some of the white heteronormative body ideologies that maintain black women’s invisibility and poor health in a racist and sexist culture. This chapter centers on the Sisters in Shape women’s explicit interventions into dominant explanations of black women’s higher body esteem as compared to white women’s and builds on the...

  8. 5 Rearticulating Feminist Identity Politics
    (pp. 143-164)

    As I have been arguing throughoutBody Language, the Sisters in Shape women’s attention to the body—the deeply corporeal nature of the experiences, discourses, and performances through which they produce their shifting and multiple identities—opens up alternative ways of conceptualizing some of the questions about identity and identity politics at the center of feminist theory. Foregrounding the embodied dimensions of the Sisters in Shape women’s subjectivities as fundamental to any understanding of their politicized identity helps mediate the falsely dichotomous impulses that tend to structure such questions. Along these lines, the previous three chapters have offered examples of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 165-170)
  10. References
    (pp. 171-184)
  11. Index
    (pp. 185-188)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)