Health clubs and body politics: aesthetics and the quest for physical capital

Matt Frew, David McGillivray

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    75 Citations (Scopus)


    At present, the western world wrestles with an obesity epidemic whilst, paradoxically, maintaining a fascination for the aesthetic ideal body. With the Scottish health and fitness industry providing the empirical backdrop, and drawing on the work of Bourdieu, this paper critically reflects upon processes of embodied production and consumption and the quest for physical capital and its referential symbolism. Using a range of qualitative methods across three case study facilities it is argued that as consumers seek to attain desired forms of physical capital, health and fitness clubs serve both to capitalize on and perpetuate cycles of embodied dissatisfaction. Although willingly subjecting their bodies to constant ocularcentric and objectifying processes, consumers are constantly reminded of their failure to attain the physical capital they desire. These processes not only mirror modern consumerism but also highlight a process of self-imposed domination. With external medical and media discourses exerting persistent pressure on the embodied state, desire for physical capital produces a self-legitimating and regulatory regime perpetrated upon the self within the internal environment of the health and fitness club. Therefore, as a venue for playing out aesthetic politics, health and fitness club spaces are anything but healthy as they oil the desire and dreamscape of physical capital, maintaining an aesthetic masochism and thus keeping the treadmills literally and economically turning.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalLeisure Studies
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2005


    • aesthetics
    • health clubs
    • body politics


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