Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Committee Chair

Kelly, Susan E.


Health behavior


This thesis is an historical, theoretical and empirical examination of women's health concepts and health behavior in contemporary consumer-oriented American society. It begins with an historical overview of social health movements to illustrate how health concepts are shaped by cultural, social, political, and moral beliefs and practices. It then traces the socio-cultural construction of "health" to understand how this concept is shaped by various social and individual factors. The qualitative methodology of grounded theory was used to examine empirically how a sample of women defines "health" and what behaviors they engage in related to "health." Non-random convenience sampling was employed to recruit twenty-five women who self-identified as "healthy." Data are derived from semi-structured interviews and verbatim transcriptions. Findings suggest that dominant cultural images associated with heath were important in how the participants talked about health, but when talking about their behavior, "health" was presented as an alternative choice to consumer, aesthetic body ideals that are expressed as oppressive, unhealthy and unattainable. Study participants discussed "health" as having positive moral connotations of being an achievement, which was, in part, expressed as contingent upon an appropriate level of self-surveillance and self-responsibility. While study participants expressed recognition of culturally available messages of health, they also exhibited a certain amount of resistance to these messages. Additionally, findings suggest that health concepts and health-related behaviors are negotiated based on habitus. The theoretical concept of habitus is useful in understanding how individuals negotiate health concepts and health behaviors within class-constrained circumstances. The concept of health identity – described as the translation from cultural and social messages of health to individual's health conceptions and health behaviors on a daily, conscious level – may be useful in creating future health promotion, health intervention, and health education programs.