Constructions of health, weight and bodily appearance among Indo-Fijian women across three generations : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Psychology at Massey University
Discursive constructions of a 'thin ideal' body shape today have often associated the slender body to the idea of a 'healthy weight' and physical beauty. While idealised notions of the feminine figure have trended from the curvaceous body to the thin ideal within western societies, for women from non-western cultures living in a western milieu, research in this area is limited. Culturally derived understandings about health, weight and bodily appearances affects the ways in which women construct idealised notions of body shape. This thesis explored constructions of health, weight and bodily appearances among Indo-Fijian women across three generations. Six focus group discussions were held with a total of 24 women spanning three generations, where four women participated in each group. Focus group discussions were taped, transcribed and analysed based on the principles of Foucauldian discourse analysis.
The analysis revealed that idealised notions of health, weight and bodily appearances were constituted as representations of the body as healthy and feminine among lndo-Fijian women across all three generations. The body as healthy was understood in terms of eating practices and physical activity. Eating practices were further negotiated as notions of diet, illness and weight, and in turn shaped the way in which women across three generations constructed the body as healthy. The body as feminine was understood as a way of exercising femininity and, discussed within understandings of physical appearance and slenderness. Across each generation, women discussed ideas about idealised notions of the body shape in culturally specific ways. Therefore, all participants drew on particular cultural and social practices of negotiating health, weight and bodily appearances as Indo-Fijian women living in New Zealand. It is concluded that the construction of societal idealised notions of body shape is not static, but rather contingent upon the context in which women live; therefore shaped and reshaped within interactions with dominant discourses of health, biomedicine and culture to construct idealised notions of the feminine body shape.