Congratulations to Alexandra Rodney, who has started a postdoctoral position on the Gender Equity and Excellence through Leadership initiative at the University of Guelph. Alexandra recently received her PhD after completing her dissertation, Healthy is the New Thin: The Discursive Production of Women’s Healthy Living Media, under the supervision of Josée Johnston (chair), Shyon Baumann, and Elaine Power. Her dissertation abstract is as follows:
This dissertation explores how food and fitness discourses are produced in the contemporary healthy-living mediascape for women. This is done through a content and discourse analysis of 640 blog posts from six foundational healthy living blogs and 230 articles from two high-circulation health and fitness magazines. In the first of three papers, I compare how food is framed in the magazines and blogs. I find that healthy-living magazines frame food as pathogenic, disease-promoting and dangerous in relation to body composition. In contrast, healthy living blog posts present food as a relatively “salutogenic” (Antonovsky 1996) force that promotes health and wellness. I argue that healthy living blog prosumers (who both produce and consume social media) are able to broaden the range of public health discourses, albeit without critiquing the moralization of health or thinness as an overarching goal. In the second paper, I use the analytical tool of biopedagogy to understand what bloggers are teaching readers about how to manage their bodies. I argue that, in order to generate the authority to disseminate health information bloggers, laypeople who are not health professionals must produce health media that includes a distinct knowledge base and evidence to support their recommendations. I offer the concept “blogspert” to describe the way in which bloggers’ authority to disseminate biopedagogy is produced through anecdotal evidence of successfully and intentionally cultivating bodily knowledge towards losing or managing weight. In the third paper, I study the construction of authenticity, a highly-valued trait in contemporary culture. I find that an authentic healthy persona is produced on healthy living blogs through “calibration” (Cairns and Johnston 2015) — a gendered self-presentation process whereby women continually work to position themselves away from pathologized extremes of feminine excess (e.g., obsessiveness perfectionism) and apathy (e.g., laziness, insufficient self-monitoring). Overall, in this dissertation I make the following conclusion: while healthy living bloggers remain compelled to navigate a broader context in which they are required to demonstrate self-regulation, they steer clear of restrictive and punitive discourses through presenting alternative logics of healthy living that reflect and reproduce the neoliberal fetishization of the individual and individual experience.
In her postdoctoral position at the University of Guelph, Alexandra will be working on the Gender Equity and Excellence through Leadership initiative under the direction of the Provost, Charlotte Yates. The initiative will involve studying the status of women and gender minorities at the University of Guelph, including staff, faculty, and students. Their research will examine the barriers that underrepresented groups face in moving into positions of authority, and propose solutions for creating a more inclusive and equitable campus.