‘Not to judge by the looks but you can tell by the looks!’ Physical capital as symbolic capital in the individualization of health among young Norwegians
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionSport, Education and Society. 2022, . 10.1080/13573322.2022.2159361
In this paper we explore how 15–16-year-old Norwegians experience social and cultural norms that shape their relationship with health and physical activity (PA) in a country where participation in PA is normative, in the sense that it is not only a widely shared practice but, in having significant cultural traction, is commonly understood as a ‘normal’ part of Norwegian daily life. The study draws upon qualitative data generated from 31 focus groups involving 148 10th graders (15–16-year-olds) in eight secondary schools in Norway. A key finding was that health was primarily viewed as synonymous with physical health and physical health as closely related to PA. A symbolic marker for physical condition – and, by extension, physical health – was physical appearance and ‘looks’ (in other words, physical attractiveness), revolving around gender normative bodily ‘shape’. In this vein, the youngsters tended towards individualistic views of health – seeing health as a responsibility that lay largely in their hands. We argue that the significance of growing up and living in a wealthy, social democratic nation-state, with high living standards and high social and cultural expectations, can have profound implications for youngsters’ perceptions of health and PA, the impact of neoliberalism notwithstanding.