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(August 9, 2001, Gazette)

Professor blends feminism, sociology and medicine
Slippery slope from health to beauty


By Sharon Gray

Dr. Natalie Beausoleil
Photo by HSIMS

“We have to give everyone a way to keep themselves fit and healthy and not blame individuals for getting sick.” – Dr. Natalie Beausoleil

The Faculty of Medicine’s commitment to broadening arts education within its doors is in strong evidence in the Division of Community Health, where Dr. Natalie Beausoleil, professor of social sciences, brings her own blend of feminism and sociological analysis to questions of health.

It’s not the first time Dr. Beausoleil has taught at Memorial — she was a member of the Sociology Department from 1993-1995. But with her recent appointment to Community Health, she feels she’s finally found the right place to base her ever-growing concerns with women’s health.

“Originally I started looking at women’s beauty practices in our culture and found that women have contradictory relations to issues like make-up,” she said. “There’s oppression, but there’s also joy in playing with looks.”

In her doctoral studies at the University of California in Los Angeles, she became interested in questions of health. One issue she studied was weight and the obligation women feel to be thin in order to be beautiful.

Dr. Beausoleil said that linking health and beauty can be problematic, even pernicious. “There are a lot of things done in the name of health that legitimize certain practices. There are cultural constructions which use the phrase ‘it’s a medical fact’ which we are supposed to accept it as if it were the God-given truth.

“It’s not just the fact that the medical establishment intervenes through cosmetic surgery, but rather through literature that intertwines health and beauty. Sometimes there’s a slippery slope from health to cultural constructions of beauty. That’s one reason why I’m doing more research on this and on issues of fitness.”

While acknowledging that fitness is good, Dr. Beausoleil has concerns for women who face obstacles such as restricted access to sports. “There often aren’t the social conditions necessary to do physical activities that are fun, not done just to lose weight.”

One of the aspects of working in Community Health that intrigues Dr. Beausoleil is the commitment the division has to linking academia with the community and government policy-makers. “That’s something I really believe in, even though it’s difficult to accomplish.”

Dr. Beausoleil came to her current appointment from Canadian Heritage and the University of Ottawa. “When I left St. John’s in 1995 I was in a bit of a shock, having come here from California and Toronto. I thought I wanted to be in central Canada, but quickly discovered it was a mistake to have left Newfoundland and ended up coming back here all the time. For awhile I was here full-time with Canadian Heritage, working with official language and Francophone minorities.”

One of the local networks she is involved with (the Body Image in Youth Network) is dedicated to promoting a positive body image among youth. “I am really proud of this network because we come from many different areas, but we all take the time from busy schedules to promote positive body image. We want to promote the vitality approach through school curriculums and make links with the community to promote positive body image.

“We need a comprehensive program for teenagers. Good food has to be as cheap as junk food. We have to give everyone a way to keep themselves fit and healthy and not blame individuals for getting sick.”

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