Girl-centered sport and physical activity programs that are grounded in a positive youth development approach have grown tremendously in the United States since the 1990s. While research on the efficacy of sports-based positive youth development is limited, recent studies conducted in the United States suggest these programs yield benefits. Our assessment of the literature and programming efforts however highlight a significant gap in the theoretical assumptions of girl-centered, sports-based positive youth development: an understanding of the complexity of sport and physical activity within a gendered context. Focusing on the U.S. context and using a feminist sociological lens, we articulate a paradox in these programs: sport participation and physical activity can improve girls’ lives along numerous psycho-social dimensions, yet in absence of attention to the social and political context of gender relations, girl-centered, sports-based positive youth development programs risk unwittingly maintaining the gender status quo. We review three specific critiques to illustrate this paradox: 1) the emphasis on the individual and the immediate context of girls’ lives masks larger systems of inequality and privilege; 2) the use of post feminist narratives, such as Girl Power, suggests girls live in a world beyond sexism; and 3) the focus on reducing the childhood “obesity epidemic” through fitness contributes to harmful fat phobic messages for girls. We offer recommendations that assist programs in leveraging their existing strengths to have a meaningful impact on girls’ lives, and that address cultural and structural factors as well as individual and interpersonal ones.
Sex Roles – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 20, 2015
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