Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences


Sport and Exercise Psychology

Committee Chair

Dana Voelker

Committee Member

Samuel Zizzi

Committee Member

Monica Leppma

Committee Member

Christy Greenleaf


For many women, the relationship with their body and exercise is complex. Exercise can have positive effects on body image, however, not all women appear to benefit positively from all types of exercise. To date, body image research has focused on exercise as an activity and less so on the context in which exercise is performed. Women frequently exercise in fitness centers as young adults which, unfortunately, is associated with body dissatisfaction. Using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) approach with Photovoice methodology, we explored young adult women’s lived body experiences while exercising in fitness centers. A purposive sample of 11 women (Mage= 21.9 years) completed a two-phase study: (1) a two-week photography period and (2) a 60-90-minute, photo-elicited interview via Skype™. Three identified themes pertained to the sociocultural fitness setting, participants’ fitness experiences, and how participants navigated their ‘place’ while exercising in fitness centers. Participants experienced a segregated fitness center environment driven by gender, the absence of female representation on machines, and “no place for women” in weightlifting areas. Interestingly, these negative experiences were buffered by self-compassion-based textual messages on walls and mirrors and dress codes which encouraged a harmonious relationship with their body while exercising. In light of these experiences, participants shared negotiating strategies (e.g., seeking private sub-spaces, challenging gender norms). This study elucidates the complexity of body experiences for young adult women in fitness settings and informs the development of exercise spaces that empower women to build a healthy relationship with their body through exercise.