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Function Matters: Exploring Body Functionality as a Dimension of Positive Body Image among Women with Physical Disabilities by Erin Thomas

Erin Thomas

Why Do You Want A Sabbatical Beauty Scholarship?

I do not have funding for my research over the summer. This award would support incentives for participants who agree to be in my study, and will help me reduce the number of hours I'll have to work over the summer so I can focus more on my research and adhere to my timeline. To be perfectly honest, I'm also very excited about the prospects of the gift card!

Function Matters: Exploring Body Functionality as a Dimension of Positive Body Image among Women with Physical Disabilities

Research Statement by Erin Thomas

Body image refers to the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions a person has about their own body. In line with the growing body acceptance movement, researchers are increasingly studying aspects of positive body image. Positive body image is a broad concept that includes many sub-constructs, including body appreciation, having broad conceptualizations of beauty, and having awareness and appreciation of the body’s functionality in addition to its appearance. Positive body image is linked with many positive health outcomes.

Scholars and activists have explored the relationship between body functionality (things the body can do) and appearance (the way the body looks). I am particularly interested in understanding how women with physical and mobility disabilities think about body functionality, including its relationship to appearance and how it contributes to overall body image. Women with physical disabilities are exposed to and expected to conform to the same dominant cultural body and beauty ideals that are known to be detrimental to women’s body image, while also experiencing differences in body structures and function that may additionally influence the way they think about body image. Unfortunately, body image research to date has largely excluded this population.

I am a third-year PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I have proposed, and recently been approved to conduct, a study exploring these themes among women with physical disabilities for my dissertation research. The first phase of my research involves recruiting about 15 women with physical disabilities to participate in video interviews with me to discuss their ideas about and lived experience with body image, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between body functionality and appearance. I plan to conduct and analyze these qualitative interviews between May and August of 2018. I do not have funding for my research over the summer, which will make it difficult for me to offer incentives to the women who participate, and to take enough time away from work to fully immerse myself in the research. This scholarship would offer much needed support toward adhering to my timeline so that I can graduate in Spring 2019.

I am thrilled to have found the Sabbatical Beauty online community. I have only been a member for a short time, but it is empowering and refreshing to sign on to social media and see a community of so many different women, unabashedly sharing photos of their natural forms and supporting each other in their explorations of health and beauty. This is certainly in contrast with most media images of women, which tend to present broad misrepresentations of female beauty in all of its diverse varieties. As a person interested in appearance from both professional and personal perspectives, I look forward to continued participation in this online forum. I trust that the group is inclusive of women with disabilities of all kinds, and I hope that my research can be of relevance to the many community members.

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