Health, bodies and active leisure

Authored by: Roberta Sassatelli

Routledge Handbook on Consumption

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138939387
eBook ISBN: 9781315675015
Adobe ISBN: 9781317380900


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While Hollywood stars and media personalities routinely appear on the covers of fitness magazines thanking their personal trainers for their toned appearances, medical discourse has been attributing an ever-increasing value to active leisure and physical exercise, both therapeutic and preventive. Fitness activities as offered by commercial gyms, match current governmental public campaigns sponsoring healthy lifestyle and longevity for the entire population in what has recently been termed “mindful fitness” (Markula, 2011; Sassatelli, 2016). In such a guise, fitness may be seen as an apparently all-inclusive territory where functionalized, rationalized and individualized enjoyment must be displayed while working towards a normalized healthy-looking, young and efficient embodied self. Healthism (Crawford, 1980) as a particular form of health promotion has long been recognized as being deeply intertwined with consumer capitalism, commodity culture and the objectification of the self-monitoring self (Lupton, 1994; 2016). It has coated our notions of beauty, just like fitness has given new colors to sport activities. Bodies are intensely under pressure in consumer capitalism, doubly objectified as signs of pleasure as well as instruments of work. This chapter considers how consumer culture contributes to the contemporary politics of health, active leisure and the body. It starts by considering the way body care is organized through fitness culture as a predominantly commercial culture which addresses the sovereign, even choosy consumer. The chapter thereby looks at which kind of symbolic work happens in the gym around ideals of the body, considers the interplay between health and beauty, the emergence of fitness as a central value, closing with a reflection on the politics of active leisure and the fit body.

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