Scholar, Judith Butler (2006), discusses hegemonic femininity stating, “gender is a performance with clearly punitive consequences” (Butler, 139). Butler believes that society has cultural guidelines for how genders should perform and when they do not conform to their gender normative role, they are punished through negative social sanction.
A study was conducted on hegemonic feminity in women’s sports and found that women runners often find themselves balancing femininity and athleticism. Krane (2012) states, “Consequences of nonconformity to hegemonic femininity in sport often include sexist and heterosexist discrimination” (115). While these studies offer scholarship on hegemonic normative images for female athletes, I question if these same principles apply to the recreational runner. The recreational runner is not under the same pressure to balance athleticism with femininity, however, they are under pressure to conform to the hegemonic normative ideal female body image.
Megan Hull (2018) studied body image in long-distance runners and found that female athletes face a double-edged sword in regards to body image, as they feel as if they need to conform to hegemonic normative femininity, which is an hourglass figure with big breasts, and the ideal runner body, with well-defined muscles. The risk in female runners feeling this combination of social and sports pressures may lead to developing eating disorders and body image issues. A study by Byrne and McLean (2012) found “females perceived that they were subject to more intense pressure than males to conform to a lean body ideal. In line with this continuum effect, the groups who perceived themselves to be subject to increased pressure to achieve a lean body shape showed higher rates of eating problems. (87)
As such, we need more visual representation of women runners with larger bodies to embody the value that being active doesn’t necessarily mean having a thin body and being larger doesn’t equate to the lack of physical fitness. We need to reframe the hegemonic normative image of the thin woman runner and inactive, lazy fat person. We need to show that women of all sizes can run, be active and fit. We can do this by showing up and sharing images of normal bodies running on social media.
A larger runner may be reticent to share a photo of their running body on social media for fear of ridicule. A runner may also be reluctant to ‘check in’ to a race on social media for fear of judgement of not fitting the image of a runner. Many runners have a fear about not finishing a race or having a slow race time and being judged as a result. The ‘runDisneyrun’ Facebook group shows the worry many runners have over ‘getting swept’ (a common running term for being taken off the course for not meeting the minimum minutes per mile pace during a race), coming in last or looking bad in race photos (RunDisneyRun). As a member of many of these social media running groups, I can see the fear increasing as race day nears. In these running groups, runners can feel free to share their fears, as other runners are often facing the same thoughts, however, many are reluctant to share their race photos, location, or thoughts on running publicly for fear of ridicule. It’s also important to note that there is a difference between how recreational runners use social media as compared to competitive runners. While competitive running is represented through speed, and the desire to achieve quicker times, recreational running is often represented as a way for people to take back the reigns of their health. Some representations and motivations can be seen as positive, such as feeling healthy, however, others are not, touting running as a form of punishment, such as a need to burn calories from eating (Cook and Simpson 2015). But as runners use social media to check into races and running locations, they will encourage other runners to participate in these events.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Routledge, 2006.
Byrne, S, and N Mclean. “Elite Athletes: Effects of the Pressure to Be Thin.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 5, no. 2, 2002, pp. 80–94., doi:10.1016/s1440-2440(02)80029-9.
Carter, Kiera. No, I Don’t Want to Run With You. Here’s Why.11 Mar. 2019, https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a25422964/running-solo/.
Cook, Simon, et al. “Jography: Exploring Meanings, Experiences and Spatialities of Recreational Road-Running.” Mobilities, vol. 11, no. 5, 2015, pp. 744–769., doi:10.1080/17450101.2015.1034455.
Krane, Vikki. “We Can Be Athletic and Feminine, But Do We Want To? Challenging Hegemonic Femininity in Womens Sport.” Quest, vol. 53, no. 1, 2001, pp. 115–133., doi:10.1080/00336297.2001.10491733.