Dr. Doshi Publishes Study on Women’s Health Apps

Women’s health apps continue to conceptualize a healthy woman in terms of narrow, traditional archetypes: Barbie, Earth Goddess, and Entrepreneur.

Health apps may be the latest tool women use to manage their health, but the messages women receive about their health through these new tools are hardly new or revolutionary. According to these apps, a healthy woman looks like a Barbie, is fertile, and invests in her health with the dedication of an entrepreneur.

Dr. Marissa J. Doshi, assistant professor of communication, makes these claims about women’s health apps in a study recently published in Women’s Studies in Communication.

“While much of the debate centers on whether or not these apps work well, I was intrigued by another aspect of women’s health apps: how do these apps conceptualize a healthy woman? In other words, what version of health for women is being promoted as achievable and desirable by these apps?” Doshi said.

To answer this question, Doshi along with Communication major, Noah Jurik (’16), created a repository of women’s health apps. Doshi then qualitatively analyzed the descriptions and icons of the apps and identified three idealizations of the healthy woman: Barbie, Earth goddess, and Entrepreneur.

The presence of these archetypes is not necessarily new information—in fact, previous research confirms that women are often encouraged to embody the Barbie and Earth goddess archetypes. Previous research has also critiqued these archetypes for promoting narrow understandings of women’s health by conceptualizing healthy women primarily as white, middle-class, skinny, fertile, heterosexual women. What’s interesting is that even newer technologies (such as apps) perpetuate these traditional ideas about women’s health.

Another interesting aspect is that because women presumably choose to download and use these apps, this mode of delivery uses the rhetoric of choice to implicate women in perpetuating these narrow ideas about women’s health.

Technology offers women new ways for managing their health, but Doshi’s study suggests that we also need to pay attention to the range of health outcomes available to women.

Noah Jurik (’16) presents his research titled “Exploring Visual Appeal of Women’s Health Apps” at Hope’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research. The analysis used a preliminary subset of health apps. Poster also presented at NCUR 2016.

As apps become normalized for health management, the burden of managing health increasingly shifts to patients. This opportunity for increased health management might be perceived as empowering, but this brand of empowerment is accessible to only a small subsection of women—mainly middle-class women who have surplus time, money, and energy to invest in their health

Doshi says that technology has the potential to help women, but for that potential to be realized, we need apps that are better designed and conceptualize health in dramatically expanded terms. Perhaps the results of this study can aid in that process.

Communication Student Research

In April, two Hope College seniors, Kelly Arnold and Karey Frink, traveled with Dr. Lauren Hearit to present their paper at the annual DePauw Undergraduate Honors Conference. Kelly and Karey had developed a project in Dr. Hearit’s Research Methods course that examined how organizational identification is impacted by different types of on-campus student groups. Their paper was competitively selected for presentation. Kelly said:

The DePauw Undergraduate Conference was useful in that it allowed me to talk about my research with other undergraduate researchers from a variety of backgrounds and interests. We were able to talk about what worked, what didn’t work, and ways to improve all of our projects.

As the conference was a working conference, after Kelly and Karey presented their research project, they received feedback from scholars at Auburn University, The  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan. Karey said:

DePauw’s Undergrad Conference paired me with a fantastic peer group and mentor who provided constructive criticism that will help me with future research papers.

Kelly and Karey had the opportunity to hear research presentations from students at other Liberal Arts institutions, as well as keynotes from scholars in the fields of film and media studies, and practitioners. A highlight for both students was a keynote address from Anne Helen Peterson of BuzzFeed News. Dr. Hearit said:

It was very rewarding for me professionally to bring Kelly and Karey to DePauw University, and we greatly appreciated the monetary support from both DePauw University and the Communication Department at Hope College to make this conference possible at little cost to our students. Presenting their work at DePauw’s Undergraduate Honors Conference was an excellent opportunity for Kelly and Karey after a semester of hard work in Research Methods. I am eager to see what is next for both these bright, hardworking students.

Stories Make the Future

Dr. James Herrick was recently featured on Mars Hill Audio, a radio/podcast program that hosts conversations with scholars and artists, and focuses on Christian faith and faithfulness in contemporary culture.

Dr. Herrick discussed his recent book, Visions of Technological Transcendence: Human Enhancement and the Rhetoric of the Future (2017). Specifically, Dr. Herrick described transhumanists’ aspirations for how humans can meld with technology and become “post-human.” Dr. Herrick focused on how these aspirations are rendered plausible through stories. While uploading human consciousness into a computer may seem (and be) impossible,  technofuturist stories shape how laws, policies, industries, aspirations, and everyday technology use play out. Indeed, technology increasingly shapes our work environments, children’s educational environments, the medical treatments we undergo, the homes we live in, the relationships we value, and the military and security systems we champion.

Dr. Herrick explains how technofuturist stories combine the myth of progress and story of evolution. These stories promise that technology will save humanity from disease, poverty, despair, and death. As such, technological progress becomes an end in itself since it is featured as humanity’s salvation. These stories are optimistic, but falsely so: they promise that technology will save humanity and provide humans with ultimate control over their environment and bodies. However, technology is only a tool, it cannot offer meaning, purpose, or salvation. Yet these technofuturist stories are persuasive and comforting, and they are fundamentally shaping our cultural practices, laws, and regulations, creating a future in which technology operates as a god.








Thinking about Grad School?

Nineteen percent of Hope College’s 2017 graduating class started graduate school this Fall! Hear from a recent Communication Major as she begins her graduate school experience.

Leah Murray (2016) enrolled this year in Syracuse University’s online Masters of Communications program. Reflecting on her education at Hope College, Ms. Murray commented that the communication theories she learned during her undergraduate coursework has helped her excel on her tests at the graduate level. Ms. Murray specifically noted that Dr. Dibble’s guidance answering questions and pushing students to really challenge themselves helped her prepare for her future in Communication fields.

Students who major in Communication at Hope College are well-positioned to attend graduate school in programs such as Communication (rhetoric, public relations, journalism, broadcasting, cinematography, etc.), Law School, Business School, Human Resources, Psychology, Social Work, Student Development, and Seminary. Graduate schools often have early application due dates, so talk with your advisor about graduate school early in the Fall semester of your Senior year if not before!