A qualitative exploration of queer women’s relationship with the body and physical activity


Due to traditional physical activity contexts being male-dominated, cis-heteronormative, and perpetuating Western beauty standards, LGBTQ+ individuals report higher rates of disengagement and lower rates of participation in physical activity, compared to their cis-heterosexual counterparts. Preliminary research has identified that queer women experience the lowest rates of physical activity participation, compared to other LGBTQ+ groups, yet no research to date has examined the intersections of sexual and gender identity with body image and physical activity behaviour. The present study investigated the relationship between queer women’s body image, physical activity behaviour, and experiences. A sample of N = 70 queer women aged 18-35 participated in one virtual 60–90-minute focus to discuss the intersections of body image, sexual and gender identity, and physical activity behaviour. Using reflexive thematic analysis, four themes were identified: The Queer Women’s Body is Political; (in)Visibility of Sexual and Gender Identity in Physical Activity; Hypervigilance to Maintain Safety and Reduce Perpetuating Gender-Based Violence; and Desire for Spaces that Foster Safety, Belonging, and Connection. Findings revealed that queer women’s body image impacts both participation in and enjoyment of physical activity. Further, the results highlighted the need for both queer-only and queer-friendly physical activity spaces to reduce hypervigilance towards the body and expressions of gender and sexual identity. This research contributes to the development and implementation of physical activity programming that is designed to promote safety, belonging, and social connection, with the goal of enhancing queer women’s enjoyment and continued engagement in physical activity.