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Body Language

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

Kimberly J. Lau

Publication Year: 2011

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

Published by: Temple University Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

One of the ideas that I grapple with in Body Language concerns the limitations of language—the moments when language fails us, when our experiences and feelings seem to exceed discourse. This is one of those moments. Body Language would not have been possible without the love and labor of many people, and I attempt to thank them here, ...

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1. The Anatomy of a Movement

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pp. 1-38

On Friday, March 20, 1998, the Philadelphia Daily News published 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 ...

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2. Experience: Spirituality, Sisterhood, and the Unspeakable

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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 ...

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3. Performance: Negotiating Multiple Black Womanhoods

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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 ...

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4. New Bodies of Knowledge

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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 ...

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5. Rearticulating Feminist Identity Politics

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pp. 143-164

As I have been arguing throughout Body 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 ...

Notes

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pp. 165-170

References

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pp. 171-184

Index

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pp. 185-187


E-ISBN-13: 9781439903100
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439903094

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Feminist theory -- Political aspects.
  • Feminism -- United States.
  • African American women -- Social conditions.
  • Group identity -- United States.
  • Self-care, Health -- United States.
  • Women -- Socialization -- United States.
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