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[Pn. 4] Queer Self, Straight Body? Examination of How Queer Women Negotiate Heteronormative Gender and Body Ideals

19 October 2013


Current socio-cultural anxiety about women’s body size and feminine appearance in conjunction with recent changes in health discourses have led to the promotion of exercise to keep women’s bodies’ fit and trim. The problem with this focus is that it reinforces a limited range of body size standards and an increasingly narrow representation of gender that few women can sustain or embody. Alongside these changes, there has been an increased promotion of the heterosexual feminine ideal for queer women, as seen for example in the HBO show The L Word. How do queer women interpret, negotiate and/or resist normative gender and body ideals? What role does exercise play in the negotiation of gender and other social identities? This paper employs narrative analysis of interviews with queer women in Toronto and Vancouver about their exercise practices, gender identity and body image. It examines the relationship between body size, exercise, gender and sexuality to enrich understanding of contemporary meanings of gender, and forms of regulation on bodies and subjectivities. Analysis of the interviews reveals complex and contradictory negotiations of gender and bodily appearance. The women trouble gender in terms of having muscular and androgynous appearing bodies, but also draw upon dominant health and gender discourses to reinforce the (hetero)normative thin ideal. This paper addresses the impact of changes in body size and gender norms for queer women to provide insight into theorizing on gender, sexuality and the body.


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