<<Slide 1 Opening>>
<<Slide 2 Quote>>
“No one prepared me for living life as a fat person.”
I re-read that statement from Jacqueline Brady several times and reflected on how her mother prepared her for life as a black woman but didn’t warn her of the teasing, taunting, and judgment she would face as a fat woman. Her entire life, she felt immense shame because society told her that being fat was a moral shortcoming, and while she couldn’t choose the color of her skin, she chose to be fat.
<<Slide 3 Me>>
I believe this resonated with me so deeply because my story is the inverse.
My entire life, my Mom, prepared me to live life as a fat woman. I was a chubby kid, plump teen, and fat young adult. I received the message loud and clear that as a fat person, I needed to maneuver through life differently than someone who was thin. The size of my body pervaded my every movement and thought. I moved through space differently, hyperaware of the space my body took up.
<<Slide 4 Shoe>>
In school, I was picked last every time kids had to choose “teams.” Because my every move was examined, criticized, and ostracized, I learned not to take up space. I stopped trying to swing the bat. I jumped out of the way of the ball rather than catch it, spike it, dribble it, or dunk it. Kids made fun of me when I ran, shouting “boom, bada, boom,” So I stopped running.
“It’s OK,” my Mom reassured me. “People like us aren’t good at sports,” she said while writing me a note excusing me from gym.
I was a straight-A student, except for PE, which I failed. Needless to say, I wasn’t only not good at sports, I couldn’t even see myself in the arena. The pervasive messaging I received, both intentional and subliminal, was that fat bodies like mine were not meant to move. I was less than because of my body size.
I remember the exact moment I decided to engage in purposeful physical activity for the first time in my life. I cracked open a Weight Watchers book and read a passage that said that I could lose weight faster with physical activity. Not groundbreaking, I know. Pretty simple math equation that we hear touted again and again. Eat less, move more. But for some reason, in that moment, I decided to stop ignoring the “move more” part of the equation. Never being one to have patience, I looked up the physical activity that burned the most calories: running.
I ate less. I moved more. I began by walking. Then walking/running. Then running. I lost weight—89 pounds, to be exact. But the weight loss isn’t the reason for this story.
<<Slide 5 Running>>
I share this to say that even now…after I have run eight full marathons, 90 half marathons, and a multitude of 10Ks and 5Ks…. I still suffer from imposter syndrome. It took me a long time to associate with the moniker “runner.” I didn’t feel like a “real” runner after my first 5K nor 10K…I kept running longer and longer distances until I felt I deserved the title. I couldn’t figure out why no matter how many days, miles, or minutes I ran, I still didn’t feel like a runner.
<<Slide 6 Bath>>
Until one day, when flipping through Runner’s World magazine, I realized why I didn’t identify with this group. I didn’t look like the runners they depicted in the magazines. I wasn’t fast. I couldn’t relate to getting excited about fartleks or negative splits. I didn’t have tightly toned legs. Even though I had grown up, lost 89 pounds, and ran, I was still the little chubby girl sitting on the sidelines…being told I didn’t fit in.
<<Slide 7 Mom>>
While I could transcend the ideals placed upon me and visualize myself as a runner, my Mom could not. She had been larger her entire life. I watched her struggle with her weight. She faced prejudice everywhere she went. From people snickering behind her back at the store to doctors not taking her ailments seriously to being denied employment opportunities, she faced adversity her entire life. The messages she received about her body and herself resonated so deeply; she couldn’t even see herself being active. Activity was for “Other” people. The thin. The accepted. The ideal. She died four years ago at the age of 59. Possibly…she could have avoided some of the ailments that ultimately led to her early death if she would have engaged in physical activity. Not for the sake of losing weight…which is what turned her off from ever engaging or visualizing herself participating. Not for the pervasive reasons we hear in the media…that running leads to weight loss or helps women obtain hegemonic body ideals.. instead so she could feel the possibilities of what her body could do rather than the space it took up. So, she could experience the freedom that mobility provides rather than feel shame for daring to exist in a fat body. My Mom never got that chance.
<<Slide 8 Body>>
You may wonder how the story of my Mom and my struggles with weight relate to my work on the phenomenology of women’s recreational running. I seek to connect these issues of rhetorics, body size, and sports to understand better how these intersect. My dissertation will explore the gendered rhetorics of in-person and virtual recreational running events in institutional and vernacular spaces. I will specifically examine how these rhetorics are gendered, analyzing themes related to the body. Through this research, I seek to answer three primary questions:
<<Slide 9 Questions>>
1) In what ways are everyday rhetorics of women’s recreational running gendered?
2) How do rhetorics of recreational running reinforce hegemonic body ideals for women?
3) What are the similarities and differences among institutional and vernacular rhetorics in both in-person and virtual running events?
Where are marginalized groups being “Othered” and excluded due to their race, size, or class? Is there an opportunity in online spaces, mobile, and locative media for inclusion and activism?
<<Slide 10 Books>>
For our conversation today, I first provide an overview of my dissertation purpose and research questions. I will then give an overview of my methodology. I move into an explanation of the specific methods I will use. I will then share with you, based on my initial readings, the four areas that not only span across all of my research but they also all contradict my initial conjecture. At the forefront, I want to address that I was surprised at some of the research I came across in reading for exams, and many of my initial expectations were proven wrong.
I think most people come into their exam defense to talk about how their research corroborates their initial conjecture. However, I am going to take a risk and do something completely different. I will share with you four findings that I was completely wrong about prior to reading for exams. The discoveries will change the trajectory of my dissertation. These themes spanned across all three of my research areas, which are Feminist Theories and Rhetorics, Material-Digital Bodies and Spaces, and Leisure, Sport, and Size. In doing this, I will share with you my initial expectations for what I would find and what scholars said that proved otherwise. I end with a summary of how I will apply this research to my study.
<<Slide 11 phenomenology >>
My methodology for this dissertation is comprised of four strands, including phenomenology, “everyday” feminist-materialism, embodied vernacularity, and intersectionality. I will create a bricolage of these methodologies to bring to my research. I first want to explain why I am starting with phenomenology. Phenomenology, which is the study of consciousness, can serve as a resource for understanding the lived experience of the female recreational runner.
Feminist writers, including Sonia Kruks, Elisabeth Grosz, and Iris Young, are carrying forward the work of Simone de Beauvoir and how her phenomenology of the lived experience helps us understand how “one is not born, but becomes a woman.” A significant influence for these feminist scholars is Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who postulates that we perceive and receive information of and from the world through our bodies. They contribute to the conversation that phenomenology can help us understand the body, not as an object, but as lived. Kruks argues that phenomenology privileges the inside (our consciousness) rather than the outside (body). Elizabeth Grosz holds that mind-body dualism is central to the philosophy linking the meanings between gender and the body. Throughout history, women have been seen as somehow more biological and more corporeal than men. In “Throwing Like A Girl,” Young discusses embodiment and how women and men differ in sports participation through how they stand, hit a bat, and run.
<<Slide 12 books2>>
I seek to build upon the solid foundation and expand the conversation started by outstanding scholars in the field, including Michelle Smith’s methodology of exploring the gendered lived experience of women, Sarah Hallenbeck’s feminist-materialist methodology, Jordynn Jack’s “rhetorics of gendering,” Jessica Enoch’s call for redefining what counts in the history of rhetoric, Carol Mattingly’s analysis of clothing as rhetoric, and Roxanne Mountford’s critical lens to the gendered space of the pulpit. As I explore the institutional and vernacular rhetorics, I will deploy Liz Barr’s concept of “embodied vernacularity,” which considers voices that are not in positions of leadership and may lack access to official sites or formal addresses. In contrast, institutional rhetorics allow organizations to speak with a single authoritative voice in their interactions with the public.
<<Slide 13 hooks>>
I will also place tremendous importance on applying an intersectional approach. Kimberlé Crenshaw first used the term “intersectionality” to highlight black women’s experiences in particular with the American legal system. “For Crenshaw, race and gender discrimination combined on the bodies of black women in a way that neither race discrimination nor gender discrimination alone captured or addressed” I want to go back to a point made at the beginning of this presentation…. while my Mom prepared me to live life as a fat person, she did not prepare me for living life as white. What I mean by this that those who were born into a position of privilege because of the color of their skin have a responsibility to be an ally and advocate for BIPOC voices. Through my research, I want to make sure that I am not speaking solely from a white cisgender female point of view. As such, I will apply an intersectional methodology to ensure I am considering a wide array of voices and representing the intersection of challenges of racism, sexism, and homophobia.
<<Slide 14 Virtual Medals and Gear>>
Now that I have provided an overview of the methodologies I will use, I will shift to explain the methods I will leverage. I will explore ten specific recreational running events, both in-person and virtual, and will read the material artifacts associated with each event, including medals, clothing, and
<<Slide 15 Gear>>
<<Slide 16 Shoes>>
To provide an example of how I will explore the materiality of objects within women’s recreational running, I refer to what Scot Barnett states in Rhetoric Through Everyday Things. He emphasizes materiality’s rhetoric rather than rhetoric’s materiality. The difference between these two terms is that materiality’s rhetoric is the persuasive work performed by physical objects, whereas the rhetoric’s materiality describes the materiality of the rhetoric or language. Extending this to my research, I will consider the materials in women’s running. For example, the material design of running shoes acts as an agent. The smoothness of the sole of my shoes, free of rocks or gravel, shares that I run on the treadmill more than outdoors. The little hole peeking out from the upper right corner communicates that they’ve hit the pavement for more than 500 miles.
<<Slide 17 Medals>>
I will also examine medals for women’s races and explore if they reinforce hegemonic femininity in their design.
<<Slide 18 Tiffany>>
I will ask what the sponsors tell us about the race? (For example, the New York Women’s Half Marathon had Tiffany and Lululemon as race sponsors, and the medal was a custom-designed Tiffany necklace engraved with 13.1. The race shirt was made by Lululemon, which sends messages on its own, including connotations of white privilege.
<<Slide 19 Pandora>>
One of the sponsors of The Disney Princess Half Marathon is Pandora jewelry, and they offer many Pandora Disney charms and jewelry at the expo.
<<Slide 20 Dooney>>
Dooney & Bourke, the famous purse maker, also has a partnership with Disney. Each year they design Disney Princess purses that in price from $200-$400. These purses sell out every year, sometimes even upon pre-order sight unseen.
<< Slide 21 Bullets >>
Now that we understand my aim, purpose, research questions, methodology, and methods,
I want to share with you the four discoveries that I made that were contrary to my expectations. These include
- Women of color experience racism and sexism simultaneously
- Women are confronted with a double-bind
- Online spaces do not offer a respite from harassment, sexism, or racism.
- the obesity epidemic is a false construct—the results of which oppress women
<< Slide 22 books >>
So why is all of this significant? This is an important area for scholarship because sports do not exist in a silo, immune to and apart from the surrounding culture. The same gender, size, race, and class issues that prevail in our society permeate the world of sports.
<< Slide 23 70>>
Given that sports represent a $70+ billion industry in the United States alone, its implications have historical, economic, sociological, and psychological consequences.
Additionally, research is lacking a perspective of gender and race issues in women’s recreational running. The focus is usually on the professional athlete, not the everyday female recreational runner. Studies on running gloss over or de-emphasize the challenges women have faced in the sport and completely ignore issues relating to race.
<< Slide 24 RW>>
My work is timely, given that the feature story in the latest issue of Runner’s World, published just last week, is on how athletes are working to end harassment of women, LBGTQ+, and BIPOC runners. Additionally, given the rampant effects of COVID, more events are moving online, which offer a new lens to evaluate running, harassment, and activism.
This is important because women of color experience racism and sexism simultaneously, thereby magnifying challenges they encounter and creating new dimensions of prejudice and oppression. Karma Chavez explains that Black men have aligned with the patriarchy while feminism has aligned with white women. As such, Black women have been left out of both. Today, I will call out the issues relating to gender and race in each of the areas that I explore rather than discussing race as a separate topic unto itself. I do this purposefully, as racism intersects with each of these issues compounding sexism, racism, and sizeism.
My initial conjecture was that the everyday rhetorics of women’s recreational running would be gendered, demonstrated through sexist and violent langue and materials. I expected that both institutional and vernacular rhetorics would reinforce hegemonic body ideals for women. However, I thought that we would see more sexist and classist rhetorics in institutional spaces (such as official marketing materials) and that vernacular rhetorics (or unofficial language) would be more inclusive. I had hoped that women could leverage social media to reframe the dominant narrative (read white and heterosexist) on women’s running. I also thought that the Internet could serve as a space for escaping expectations for heteronormativity and could provide a space for online activism and driving change.
I am not the only one who thought this way, as scholars initially thought the Internet would erase the body. Digital technology was often viewed in dematerialized terms with disembodied selves floating in the cloud. Frith reminds us that scholars (mostly male and white) believed that the Internet would provide significant opportunities for diverse representations. However, we have discovered that digital platforms have become just one more space where hierarchies of gender, race, class, sexuality are reproduced. We do not leave our bodies behind when we engage in the digital world.
<<Slide 28-1 in 4>>
While women and men receive an equal amount of harassment online, the violent and sexual nature of the hate speech women receive is much more intense. Additionally, Black women are more likely to receive harassment online, at rates as high as 1 in 4.
The effects of this violence extend beyond threatening words online and manifest in actual violence towards women. A national study in 2019 found that 84% of women runners had been harassed or assaulted while running.
Nearly all (94%) of those women said their harassers were men. Kurt Streeter wrote “Running While Black,” published in the New York Times, which discusses the unique challenges Black runners face, including creating exhaustive mental checklists and receiving confrontation by suspicious neighbors.
<<Slide 31Me running in neighborhood>>
This was eye-opening for me because, as a female, I have certainly encountered my fair share of harassment while out on a run. One early morning in my neighborhood, a car followed slowly behind me, and I had to run through neighbor’s yards and hide behind a bush until he gave up. I can’t help imagine how much worse it would have been if I wasn’t white. If I was a person of color, could I have as easily run through my neighbors’ yards and hidden behind a bush to escape my stalker? Or would that have created a new set of problems?
<<Slide 32-smartwatch and maps>>
Given the violent instances, I mentioned are in-person, we may be prone to think that virtual events are safer. However, this is not necessarily the case. We may believe that in-person events are on the ground, and virtual events are in cyberspace. However, both are partially digitally coded and physical. These constitute hybrid spaces. When runners run an event “virtually,” they do not run in a “non-space” as the word would imply. The definition of “virtual” is “not physically existing,” and of course, this is not the case in virtual running. Runners run in a physical “place.”
Conversely, runners are not only running on the road when running an in-person event. Mobile and locative media technology enables us to run virtually, share our routes, and leverage GPS to monitor our location. In this manner, our bodies imprint upon digital space, and digital space imprints upon our bodies
<<Slide 33-woman legs on stage>>
I am now going to shift to discuss the double binds that women face. When I first entered this research area, my conjecture was that women would encounter expectations of heteronormative femininity. I did not expect that women faced a double bind with contrary expectations of femininity and masculinity. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell observed that women rhetors face a double bind when speaking in public forums. They were viewed as “unwomanly” if they spoke in “masculine” spaces, but at the same time, they needed to display “femininity” on stage to gain the audience’s respect. She coined this way of presenting as the “feminine style.”
In Appropriate(Ing) Dress, Carol Mattingly outlined how this same feminine style was leveraged in women rhetors’ dress to achieve rhetorical effectiveness and appeal to their audiences in masculine public spaces. In The Gendered Pulpit, Roxanne Mountford argues that women use this “feminine style” in preaching to establish ethos and appeal to their audience.
<<Slide 35-mother and child>>
In Regendering Delivery, Lindal Buchanan argued that women experience a double bind when leveraging their maternal ethos in rhetorical delivery as they simultaneously embody authority and credibility while positioning themselves disadvantageously within the gendered status quo.
BIPOC women also experience a double bind, complicated with racism and sexism. A recent example of this is the criticism and scrutiny of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
<<Slide 37-Disney Princess>>
Women runners face this double bind, as displaying feminine characteristics allow them to enter the arena, but it does not garner them respect nor being taken seriously. Sports scholar Vicki Krane found that the consequences of not conforming to hegemonic femininity often includes sexist discrimination. Women are punished for displaying “masculine” qualities,” but they are also criticized when conforming to heteronormative “feminine” characteristics. I point to the Disney Princess Half Marathon and the Divas Race Series, two of the most popular women’s running events globally and arguably, the epitome of women’s running events, to provide an example of how this manifests.
Each year, 18,000 runners, 90% of which are female, register for the Disney Princess Half Marathon race, and it sells out within 15 minutes.
<<Slide 39-Princess Medals>>
This race is characterized by women embracing hegemonically feminine characteristics, such as donning a princess crown, wearing tutus, and dressing heterosexy. However, at the same time, these events are also deemed “less than” and not “real” running events by the broader running community.
<<Slide 40 Princesses>>
These issues are compounded by race. The term “princess” conjures up specific imagery, often of a heteronormative white female who is a damsel in distress. Michael Benet also argues that the black female body can never be perceived. This running event is pervasive with haunting whiteness. Tammie Kennedy states that haunting whiteness describes how whiteness “haunts” language and acts as the backdrop that assumes white to be the unstated norm. Because Disney princesses are based on fairy tales, many of which were originally written by German and Dane authors, the image of the ideal woman was portrayed as white, blond, and blue-eyed.
<<Slide 41 Divas>>
The Divas Half Marathon Series is another popular women’s running event. This race provides pink tutus, pink feather boas, tiaras, and a pink princess crown medal, decked out with jewels. Shirtless male firefighters await the runners at the finish line. Not only do the materials reinforce gender and race bias, but they are both also filled with linguistic sexism, which is defined as sexist and gender-biased language. Vicki Krane states that linguistic sexism in sports is demonstrated by adding disclaimers such as “princess,” “ettes,” and “divas.” This “othering” creates an environment that implicitly favors men and perpetuates the ideology of male privilege and dominance in the sport. Even the word “diva” is racist, as posited by bell hooks and Kimberly Brown. The term diva is often used as a metaphor for female empowerment, but at the same time, this represents an unruliness—specifically, the unruliness of Black women.
<<Slide 42 Pink Self Defense Tools >>
In a stroke of irony, this double-bind can even be seen in the design of materials meant to protect women from the violent hands of men. There is an entire market of self-defense tools for female runners. I own several of these products myself, including pepper spray, a stun gun, and a rape whistle hidden in a cute necklace…all in various forms of pink to allow me to be feminine while protecting myself from being raped. Because a woman shouldn’t be seen as too masculine or strong, even when staving off an attacker. As I explained, you can see how these running events and materials are embedded with overt and covert themes of linguistic sexism, hegemonic normativity, and haunting whiteness.
<<Slide 43 Obesity is a false construct >>
I now shift to fat studies. The agreement among fat studies scholars, including Kathleen LeBesco, Amy Farrell, and J.E. Oliver, the obesity epidemic is a false construct created to skyrocket profits for the weight loss industry, pharmaceutical companies beauty brands.
<<Slide 44 BMI >>
Body Mass Index (BMI), which is the primary way obesity is defined, is a false construct based on faulty science. Almost every primary industry holds a monetary stake in perpetuating weight-based stereotypes and making people not feeling good about themselves, resulting in a multi-billion-dollar industry. The weight loss industry particularly affects women.
<<Slide 45 Obesity prejudice >>
Western expectations of the feminine ideal, which is small, slim, fragile, and lacking muscular strength, is ideal because it reinforces women as powerless, obedient, and subservient to men. Sandra Bartky argues that female beauty standards are among the many ways that a male-dominated society keeps women under control and the “tyranny of slenderness” keeps women shackled.
<<Slide 46 Quote >>
The kicker of this is that studies show that “Even with the most stringent diet and exercising up to four hours a day, achieving and maintaining a weight loss of more than 10 percent of your body weight is not likely.” We are being sold the promise of a thin body when the reality is that much of our body size is due to genetics, not what we eat or how we move.
Kathleen LeBesco and Jana Braziel argue that while weight and BMI are not indicators of health, exercise is. Studies show that regardless of weight loss, exercise is the number one determinant of longevity and disease prevention. However, since there are limited profits in promoting exercise / running, this is not touted as much as diet products.
<<Slide 47 Fearing the Black Body>>
While there is a consensus among fat studies scholars that fat phobia has never been about health, there is a disagreement among scholars on the relationship between weight and race. Sabrina Strings, the author of Fearing the Black Body, argues that the contemporary ideal of the slender body is racist—the health care system in America pushes the thin agenda on Black women, focuses almost entirely on the reduction of weight as a remedy to disease. Conversely, Oliver argues that a large posterior on a woman can be seen as a sign of strength and sexuality among Black and Latino populations and that in America, white women, in particular, have been the target for fat bias. As it relates to my research, it helps understand how these race and fat biased rhetorics affect participation in running events. Because running is often marketed to white women to control their body and lose weight, entire groups of people are left out of this narrative. And I question, how does this affect women of all races? Women who are not seeking weight loss? Those who can’t visualize themselves being physically active?
This brings me back full circle to my opening personal story.
<<Slide 48 Mom>>
My Mom was considered “obese,” according to BMI charts.
She was told her entire life that she was less than.
She was given the message that she couldn’t and shouldn’t run.
Almost every waking moment of her life was preoccupied with her body size.
To help fuel the profits of wealthy corporations?
When I read the research that confirmed that obesity, BMI, and body weight are all false constructs and that fat prejudice is not about health…. it’s about money, power, and control. I was infuriated.
I wish she would have known that health comes in all sizes.
That she didn’t have to be ashamed of her body.
That she could have still moved her body and improved her health without worrying about her body’s size.
Because my Mom struggled with her weight, she prepared me my entire life for living as a fat person. But she prepared me in a way that reinforced the dominant narratives of hegemonic femininity, perpetuating the vernacular of a woman needing to control her body…not to be attractive to men, but to communicate her morality, her self-control, and ability to control her desires. These vernacular rhetorics reinforce that fat women don’t run or move their bodies. They should be ashamed and try to shrink, not embrace their bodies and take up the space they deserve.
<<Slide 49 I love to run>>
I still struggle to identify myself as a runner. Even though this year, I have run three virtual marathons, 12 half marathons, and daily runs totaling 3,614 miles, I still struggle to view myself as anyone but the little fat girl who just wanted to fit in.
<<Slide 50 Little girl running away>>
My Mom died in March 2016. One week after she died, I ran a local half marathon when suddenly I felt her presence next to me. I could see her as real as if she was there. But it wasn’t the Mom I knew. It was her as a little girl, running along beside me with a smile a wide as the moon and pigtails bobbing on her shoulders. She told me, “I’m free now, Stacy. I am free from my body, and I can run.” Tears came to my eyes and didn’t stop flowing until I crossed the finish line. My Mom didn’t feel free to run until she was released of the shackles of the tyranny of slenderness, the harassment, the patriarchal expectations to conform her body to hegemonic norms.
Through my work, I hope that I can untangle the rhetorics in both institutional and vernacular spaces to shed light on false constructs that keep women shackled and unable to realize the potential of their bodies. I want to uncover the expectations of heteronormativity, racism, and linguistic sexism in the sport of women’s recreational running from a phenomenological perspective. In other words, rather than focus on the professional athlete or an understanding of women’s experiences from a theoretical perspective, I seek to uncover the real, everyday, lived experience of women of all races and how they experience misogyny, racism, and sizeism. In short, I’m doing this not only in honor of my Mom but for all women.
<<Slide 51 Questions>>