Embodiment and the Meaning of the “Healthy Body”: An Exploration of First Nations Women’s Perspectives of Healthy Body Weight and Body Image

  • Jennifer Poudrier Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Saskatchewan
  • Janice Kennedy Director, Mīwayawin Health Services Inc., North Battleford, Saskatchewan
Keywords: Healthy body weight, body image, First Nations women, embodiment, participatory research, photovoice, Saskatchewan


Obesity and its associated health risks have been identified as areas of concern for First Nations women, however, very little is known about the cultural, gendered and historical meanings or experiences of healthy body weight and healthy body image from the perspectives of First Nations women. This article describes the first phase of a project that explores these issues from the perspective of First Nations women living in rural communities of the Battleford Tribal Council (BTC) region of Saskatchewan. We describe the start up phase of our community-based research program. We detail the processes involved in the development of our research team and the research project, including a community consultation (a sharing circle and focus group) that was held with six BTC women. We also describe the outcomes of the consultation, which was intended to provide an appropriate direction for our research program and to gain an understanding of BTC women’s perspectives on healthy body weight and body image. Through our analysis, we identify three interconnected themes related to perceptions of the “healthy body” in the context of BTC communities. These themes are: 1) the importance of Elder knowledge and traditional values in promoting community wellness; 2) the importance of understanding family history and the role of women; and 3) the need to better understand the practical aspects of purchasing and preparing healthy food. As such, we suggest that in order to enhance community programming related to healthy body weight and body image, it is essential to understand the ways in which First Nations women experience and give meaning to their bodies and the “healthy body” in the socio-cultural and historical context of the BTC communities. We also suggest that further exploration of these meanings with BTC women, analyzed with the concept of “embodiment”—which addresses the complex intersections between the physical body and the socio-cultural experiences of the body—will constitute an important second phase of our work.