Women’s Press
Canada’s leading academic feminist publisher
Canada’s leading academic feminist publisher

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Victoria Kannen writes and teaches on the subjects of identity, embodiments, education, and popular culture. She is the co-editor of The Spaces and Places of Canadian Popular Culture (Canadian Scholars Press, 2019). Her work has also been published in such journals as the Journal of Gender Studies, Culture, Theory and Critique, and Teaching in Higher Education. Victoria holds a PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

Recently we got a chance to speak with Victoria about her most recent publication with Canadian Scholars and Women’s Press, Gendered Bodies and Public Scrutiny: Women’s Stories of Staring, Strangers, and Fierce Resistance. For more information, read the interview below.

CSP&WP: Tell us about the book. Where did the idea for this project come from?

VK: This has been a book that has been circling around in my mind since I finished my PhD in 2011. I think I needed a few years of writing and teaching to feel confidant enough to tackle it. As a very tall woman, my body has been the subject of public questioning my entire life. Having said that, the gendered complexity of height is only one element – and a rather privileged one – of how strangers ask questions of bodies that are unusual. I wanted to create a teachable book that would explore a wide array of bodies that inspire awe and are treated as odd when out in public space.

CSP&WP: How did you select your interview candidates?

VK: I decided to use my social media as the space where I could reach out to folks who might be interested in participating. I made a post asking for participants that ended up being shared quite a lot – through academic and non-academic circles. It ended up being a great idea because I had people that I didn’t know offering to tell their stories and be part of the project.

CSP&WP: What was your approach for the responses to the personal testimonies?

VK: I think storytelling is not given the importance that it deserves in a lot of academic writing. I wanted this book to incorporate body stories in order to let folks tell their own narratives. Someone who recently read the book told me she was surprised by how “intimate” the stories were and how she felt so connected to each contributor via their story. That was definitely a goal for me – to include stories, which personalize and “make real” very challenging concepts of identity that then we work through together in the rest of the book.

CSP&WP: Tell us about the artwork in the book.

VK: I knew that I wanted the book to be as engaging as possible. For me, this meant to have the book be colourful and full of art. I put out a call (again using my social media) and made a notice that I was looking to commission an artist for the book project. Luckily, I had an overwhelming amount of artists keen to work with me on it and then I ended up choosing Damian Mellin from all of the submissions. We hadn’t known each other prior to this project, but his work is amazing and we had such a great time collaborating. See more of his work here

CSP&WP: A central theme to this book is the idea of being “on display.” Can you elaborate on what this means?

VK: In some ways, all bodies are “on display”. We live in a very visual culture, so we craft and shape our bodies to look certain ways our whole lives. For those of us with bodies that are quite different than the norm, how we look inspires people to ask questions about why we are that way. In the book, a few participants discuss being touched by strangers (in terms of hair) or advice being offered on how to make their body more normal. Bodies on display are those bodies that are consistently reminded that they are different and that they disrupt or resist whatever a “normal” body is.

CSP&WP: How would you direct a post-secondary classroom discussion around this book?

VK: This book would be so useful for classes that want to think about identity, bodies, power, and resistance, but do so in a very relational way. I would use it as a supplement to conversations about bodies and identities, but also about oppression, resistance difference, storytelling, and methodology.

CSP&WP: What’s been the most rewarding part of working on this project?

VK:The connections that I have made because of the book have been so much more rewarding than I could have imagined. The stories that the participants shared were often so hard, so there were tears and laughs and just wonderful connections made. People who have read the book have reached out to share their thoughts and reflections on it. My new friendship with Damian is something I cherish. It has all been amazing so far.

CSP&WP: How did it feel to see the book be released into the world?

VK: I think it is always a bit scary to put something out in the world. After the interviews were done, it was mostly just conversations between Damian and I (and my patient and loving husband). So, it is a risk to share your thoughts and ideas, but I am so grateful for how it has been received.

CSP&WP: What other scholarship would you like to see in the field of body studies?

VK:There are some amazing books that also recently came out on body stories, body studies in Canada, and beyond. I think this is a field that has endless possibilities and I feel grateful that I get to be a small part of it.

CSP&WP: Any other book ideas on the horizon?

VK: I am currently working on an edited collection on virtual identities and digital culture, but I have plans percolating for continuing with work specifically in body studies on embodied transformations.

Image of Victoria Kannen against a grey-purple background with quote from interview