Issue 41 2005
Passing as a "Lady"
Nationalist Narratives of Femininity, Race, and Class in Elite Canadian
By KAREN MCGARRY
Canadian Nationalism and the Construction of a "Socially
 Nations have historically constructed themselves as gendered
institutions (eg. Nagel 1998; Parker and Russo et al. 1992; Yuval-Davis
1997), and at different times and for different purposes, they have
sought to promote certain "official" gendered or sexual identities
for public consumption. Visual spectacles, including international
competitions like beauty pageants, exhibitions, and sporting events,
have historically served as important contexts within which notions
of national identity and gender intersect and are inscribed upon
the body. This paper explores the link between nationalist discourses
and the privileging of particular images and discourses of femininity
in Canadian figure skating. It is based upon twenty-three months
of ethnographic/anthropological fieldwork among amateur, high performance
(ie. National, World, and Olympic level) Canadian figure skaters
undertaken between January 2000 and February 2002. Interviews and
participant observation were conducted in training institutions,
skating rinks, and in the media centers of international competitions
across Canada to understand the different perspectives of skaters,
coaches, choreographers, officials, the media, sponsors and others
involved in the construction of Canadian figure skating. Although
most of the names of my informants have been changed to protect
their anonymity, this paper draws upon their varied perspectives
to comprehend how such discourses have functioned in the production
of gendered identities of the nation. More specifically, I explore
the relationship between privileged, mass-mediated constructions
of femininity in Canadian skating and their relationship to both
social class, and to a racialized "aesthetics of whiteness." How
and why, for example, are certain classed and racialized femininities
privileged as iconic achievements of Canadian national identity
by the Canadian mass media at the expense of other identities?
 One Canadian coach informed me that it was critical to ensure
that her students "pass as ladies." Indeed, amateur figure skating
has long been recognized as a sport which promotes particular hegemonic
ideals of femininity (eg. Baughman 1995; Kestnbaum 2003:127-180).
This paper adds to this scholarship by exploring how dominant societal
ideals of femininity converge with nationalist interests. In other
words, how do the bodies of certain Canadian female skaters merge
with mainstream ideals of "Canadian identity?" Figure skating provides
an excellent forum for an exploration of such phenomena partly because
it is Canada’s second most popular spectator sport behind hockey
(Skate Canada 2001), and in Canada, it is one of the few sports
to receive prime-time television coverage on many networks. Since
the 1930s, Canada has won more than 500 international figure skating
medals, making household names out of such skaters as Barbara Ann
Scott, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Elizabeth Manley, Toller Cranston,
Brian Orser, and Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, to name a few.
Many of Canada’s elite skating champions are thus highly visible
and recognizable celebrities, which makes the sport financially
lucrative for television networks and their corporate sponsors.
One sports executive I spoke with, for instance, informed me that
figure skating represents a "gold mine" for his network. It is
therefore not surprising that in Canada, figure skating is opportunistically
marketed by sponsors and networks as a "national pastime," despite
the fact that few (0.5%) Canadians actually figure skate (Statistics
Canada 1998). Take, for example, the perspective of CTV, Canada’s
self-declared "official figure skating network:"
It’s part of our Canadian heritage. That’s why CTV - ‘Canada’s
Figure Skating Network’ - is committed to bringing you the best
figure skating in the world. CTV has been partnered with the
sport since 1961, and makes figure skating its core sports property
(CTV website, July 16, 2001).
In many ways, figure skating represents an opportunity for understanding
how the Canadian media and television, in conjunction with advertisers
and sponsors, influence the production of gendered, commodified
identities on ice, and in doing so, produce highly specific gendered
bodily representations of the nation that appeal to skating’s predominantly
female, middle-class demographic.
 In Canada, the state has traditionally viewed communications
and the media, among other things, as a political and educational
device for the dissemination of dominant ideologies (Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation 1999), and for this reason, the Canadian media in particular
has held a privileged position in the shaping of a national imaginary.
Chennells (2001:7), for example, argues that, despite Canada’s official
policies of multiculturalism and the "cultural mosaic" philosophy
it purports to embrace, the Canadian state and the media have sought
to enforce an "exclusive nationalism." He defines an exclusive
nationalism as an effort to create a more congruent relationship
between the state and its people, usually by privileging one way
of life, religion, or other identity over another. The state, depending
on popular opinion and preferences, will determine the extent to
which an exclusive nationalism is exercised within its official
discourses and policies. Increasingly, however, with globalization
challenging the authority of nation-states to regulate economies
and identities, the mass media and the corporate sector have become
a new forum for the enforcement of an exclusive nationalism, and,
in some respects, have taken over this role from the state, thereby
rendering the process less salient.
 Indeed, corporate sponsors and advertisers provide substantial
funding to networks in an effort, I argue, to ensure that certain
images of the gendered body are promoted favourably, partly because,
as one sports executive informed me, such images "generate income?"
Ultimately, conservative, mainstream gendered representations of
female skating bodies are promoted as national images by television
networks because they appeal to middle class notions of "respectability"
(eg. Mosse 1985) and are thus marketable. Overdetermined, hyper-feminine
images of female bodies, in particular, have widespread appeal among
a Canadian culture that is increasingly influenced by the "glamour"
and aesthetics of a Hollywoodized femininity.
 One of the ironies of Canadian nationalist discourses is that
they involve a simultaneous reaction against the perceived aggressive
presence of American consumerism and other influences (eg. Flaherty
and Manning 1993; Mackey 1999:23; New 1998), as well as an intense
desire and need for American acceptance. American and international
"acceptance" is typically measured through the circulation and favorable
acceptance of "Canadian" images, which, as I discuss, often involve
an ironic appropriation of American styles and visual aesthetics.
The perceived "glamour" of Hollywood film icons is often mimicked
by Canadian skaters, and such images are circulated in international
competitions, and cited as visual proof of Canadian success. At
one competition I attended, a female Canadian skater mimicked the
music, costumes, and hairstyles of Grace Kelly’s films, and her
appearance and performance commanded a significant amount of appreciation
and attention by American reporters. Her coach proudly commented
to me that, "we [Canadians] beat them [Americans] at their own game
with this routine!" Indeed, one way Canada is legitimated as
a nation is through the favorable international recognition of Canadian
images proliferated in the media. While global flows often represent
a threat to nationalism, without transnational relations, the manufacture
of a sense of national distinction would be difficult (Gupta 1997;
Kearney 1995:547; Manzo 1996:26; see also Meyer and Greschere 1999:2;
Wilk 1995:120), and the international consumption of spectacles
(particularly consumption by Americans), provides visible, concrete
testimony of Canada’s success as a nation. The high international
visibility of Canada’s skaters in the media affords an opportunity
for them to act as symbols of the nation. In 1988, for example,
the federal government implicitly recognized the importance of sport
in this regard, and it was maintained that, "while sport unites
us at home, our athletes help the modern Canadian become better
known in other countries. In their own way, Canadian athletes and
teams serve as ambassadors to the world" (Task Force on Sport 1988:7).
 While female Canadian skaters have not achieved the same measure
of international competitive success or celebrity status as their
male counterparts in recent years, they are nevertheless treated
as highly valued commodities in Canada. Canadian women’s skating
first received national and international recognition when Barbara
Ann Scott, a skater revered by the Canadian media more for her "Hollywood
star looks" than for her substantial athletic accomplishments, won
the 1948 Olympic gold medal. Scott went on to achieve international
celebrity, headlining professional ice shows, and acting as a spokesperson
for a variety of consumer products. Even today, she serves as a
role model for Canadian female skaters, and many of my young female
informants professed how they wanted to be "just like her." Other
women who followed in Scott’s footsteps, such as Karen Magnussen,
Petra Burka, and Elizabeth Manley, would achieve similar levels
of international success.
 The 1990s, however, were notable for the appearance of the
French-Canadian skater, Joseé Chouinard, who is discussed at length
in the final section of this paper. Born in Laval in the predominantly
French-speaking province of Quebec in 1969, Chouinard trained in
Quebec for the majority of her amateur career, capturing three national
titles in the early 1990s. In preparation for the 1994 Lillehammer
Olympics, and in an effort to improve upon her technical and artistic
abilities, she moved to Toronto to train at the exclusive Granite
Club alongside other prominent skaters such as World Champion Kurt
Browning. Interestingly, it was only after Chouinard’s move to
Toronto that she achieved a greater level of recognition from the
mass media and corporate sponsors, and, according to one coach I
interviewed, she transformed herself into a "true, feminine lady,
like from a Hollywood film." Another coach I spoke with claimed
that, "we really cleaned her up." While Chouinard had a rather lackluster
amateur competitive career at the international level, never winning
a medal at the World Championships, she was a popular topic of conversation
among my skating informants and in the Canadian media at the time
of my fieldwork. Even though Chouinard retired from amateur skating
to compete and perform professionally in 1996, she is still a highly
revered champion who is fondly remembered among skating spectators
and within the Canadian skating "community." Why, I wondered, is
Chouinard still talked about so prolifically and what makes her
such an icon of Canadian cultural nationhood? I suggest here that
as Chouinard’s competitive career progressed, she sought (perhaps
even unconsciously) to reinvent herself in terms of her costumes,
skating style, and demeanor, to conform to an "acceptable" and desirable
"upper class" English-Canadian aesthetic predicated partly upon
nostalgic reinterpretations of, and homages to, past Canadian champions
like Scott and other Hollywood-inspired idols. Her move to Toronto
was frequently perceived as a necessary aspect of this transformation,
thereby highlighting the intensely regional biases in official Canadian
discourses of national identity. Indeed, it was only at this point
in her career that she came to be proudly identified in the mass
media as a superior champion and was sought-after by various corporations
for lucrative sponsorship deals.
 Ultimately then, this paper is concerned with the ways in which
"official" or privileged discourses (influenced by the Canadian
mass media) have interpreted various Canadian female skaters’ "success"
in light of their conformity to dominant, idealized norms of a socially
appropriate femininity. Of particular relevance here is that nostalgic
pursuits for a femininity embedded in an idealized past are closely
linked with ideologies of social class and the construction of
a racialized "whiteness." Discourses surrounding Chouinard’s metamorphosis,
for instance, provide a context within which popular American (and
increasingly global) dreams of wealth, fame, and individualism are
adopted into Canadian narratives and realized through the appropriation
of conservative, hegemonic gendered identities of the past. Discussions
of Chouinard’s femininity, for example, frequently foreground the
perceived "hard work" and bodily discipline that got her there,
qualities which are metaphorically linked with the success of past
Canadian female skating sensations, and ultimately, with that of
the nation. In summary, then, this paper addresses two inter-related
issues: 1) the processes by which nostalgic remembrances of past
Canadian female champions are linked with discourses of individual
effort, race, and bodily discipline. In what ways, for example,
does nostalgia function as a trope about whiteness, and as an indirect
critique of diversity?, and; 2) the erasure of regionalisms in narratives
of class and race in an effort to produce hegemonic national images
Discipline, Race, and the "Aesthetics of Whiteness" in
Women’s Figure Skating
 Early on in my fieldwork, I came to understand how the category
of "femininity" was imagined and performed among skaters and coaches.
For example, at one training facility I visited, I spoke at length
with the parents of a young female skater. They were upset with
the fact that their daughter was not progressing well. Meanwhile,
her cohort, two male students, were able to perform jumps and other
technical elements that far exceeded the expectations of their
coaches and parents. I noticed a similar phenomenon at other training
centres, and I was interested in finding out if there were gendered
distinctions in training regimes, so I listened in on a few training
practices. What I discovered was that coaches sincerely wanted
their female skaters to perform well, yet many of their coaching
methods were fraught with gendered binarisms that idealized men
as "aggressive," and women as "passive," "gentle" and "demure."
These sorts of stereotypes arguably impede the technical development
of many Canadian female skaters. Ironically, however, Canadian
coaches and choreographers complained to me that Canadian female
skaters were not "aggressive" or "confident" enough in their performances.
In practices, however, female skaters were critiqued if their skating
style was perceived to be too "aggressive." For instance, at one
session I attended, a female coach berated her young female skater
for skating, "too aggressively" in preparation for the take-off
to her jump, and she asked her to practice several laps of skating
with "gentle, but assertive, ladylike" edges. Meanwhile, she told
her male student to "take charge" of the situation and to be "more
aggressive" in his jump take-offs. Consequently, many Canadian
female skaters are recognized to be tentative skaters, making it
difficult for them to compete technically at the world level and
successfully execute the most difficult triple jumps. For example,
six-time Canadian champion, Jennifer Robinson, did not achieve a
high level of success at the World level until she moved to the
United States to train, where, as many coaches informed me, she
learned to "be bolder about her skating." A year after her move
to Detroit, she moved into the top ten in the world standings.
The Robinson example, then, illustrates how coaches want their female
skaters to be successful competitors, and realize the importance
of building a sense of self-esteem, yet they ironically persist
in valuing stereotypical qualities of female vulnerability and frailty.
For example, I interviewed one coach from Vancouver about some of
the differences he observed between American and Canadian skaters
and this is what he had to say:
Well, I think we’re just less aggressive. You can really see
it in their [the Canadian competitors’] faces out there when they
just look nervous all the time. Americans don’t tend to have
the same kind of rationale out there I think. I remember Scott
Davis talking with his coach before a competition one time and
he [the coach] said something like, "you’re going to win for your
country," and he went out there so confident and did it. Our
male skaters are beginning to develop this sort of attitude about
them and that’s just good...a good thing...I think with our female
skaters though, they’re extremely timid internationally and they’re
not well known, even though they get a lot of attention at home.
But it’s almost a charming quality really, without all the over-the-top
competitiveness of all the American girls. Our girls work really
hard and have, I think, more discipline in their regimes than
the American girls. You’ll never find our girls out partying
the way some of the American girls I see at competitions [do].
They may not have the technical elements but they work hard still.
 The above example clearly highlights the ambiguous ways in
which the technical "inadequacies" of Canadian female skaters are
simultaneously critiqued and valued, and how particular conceptions
of "discipline" and "femininity" merge the bodies of certain female
skaters with that of the Canadian nation. Indeed, within women’s
skating, skaters learn at a young age that aesthetics, demeanor,
and personal appearance are key to one’s success. However, as I
outline more fully below, female "discipline" is often a valued
construct fashioned through the juxtaposition of Canadian females
with those from the United States. At the same time, however, the
ironic appropriation of Hollywoodized, mediated images by female
Canadian skaters, many of whom seek to mimic the fashion sensibilities
or physical appearance of Hollywood icons like Grace Kelly or Audrey
Hepburn, illustrate the ways in which such "glamorous" and increasingly
"global" imagery has become syncretized into a socially appropriate
national femininity. Furthermore, as I discuss later on, it highlights
some inadvertent consequences of such nationalist productions, including
the reliance of Canadian discourses of nationalism on the appropriation
of powerful global symbols of femininity to legitimate itself as
a nation. The remainder of my paper, then, is concerned with the
relationship between femininity and discourses which link notions
of bodily discipline, race, class, and nationalism, and the final
section applies these ideas to an analysis of Joseé Chouinard as
a metaphor for an idealized sense of "Canadianness." I will also
outline how "official" ideals of femininity are applicable only
to particular classed and racialized female skating bodies.
 Drawing upon the writings of Foucault (1978, 1979), many feminist
scholars have examined how the female body has been "disciplined"
in a variety of socio-historical contexts to conform to dominant
societal expectations of femininity and female respectability (eg.
Bordo 1991, 1993; MacLaren 2002; Wolff 1990; Quinby and Diamond
1988; Ramazanoglu 1993). Others have analyzed how women have internalized
such dominant gender expectations, often resulting in instances
of self-surveillance, or the policing of women’s own bodies. Bordo
(1992), for instance, views eating disorders such as anorexia and
bulimia as disciplinary mechanisms resulting from conformity to
hegemonic discourses of femininity which equate physically thin
bodies with notions of discipline and control – both of which are
highly idealized constructs of an appropriate femininity. Above,
I briefly observed how gendered differences in training regimes
influenced the construction of a "socially appropriate" femininity
in Canadian skating. Beyond this, how are notions of "discipline"
linked with idealized perceptions of class and race? Furthermore,
how do these identities merge with the construction of femininity
in Canadian figure skating and in what ways do certain female skating
bodies act as metaphors for the nation?
 Dyer’s (1997:17) research outlines the ways in which Victorian
ideals of whiteness became associated in the West with perceived
feminine virtues of purity, virtue, and discipline. He explains
how the Christian image of Mary has been increasingly "whitened"
in Christian iconography over the years to symbolize her virtue,
and within the Catholic Church, her virginity. Mary thus came to
be regarded as "the supreme exemplar of feminine whiteness." Similarly,
he notes how, since the nineteenth century, female imagery in cinema
and advertisements has been concerned with whitening the female
face (Dyer 1997:48), because "to be a lady is to be as white as
it gets" (Dyer 1997:57). Hollywood films, he explains, routinely
use various forms of camera backlighting to emphasize female whiteness,
and to stress the "luminous" quality of white females. Frankenberg
(1993:77) also suggests that the concept of femininity is a highly
racialized and classed one. In her examination of inter-racial
sexual relationships, she observes how white women who chose to
have inter-racial relationships are often considered to be "loose,
sexually unsuccessful or sexually radical" (Frankenberg 1993:77).
 Historically in Canadian skating, the "whiteness," and thus
the "purity" of Canadian female skaters is often juxtaposed against
American or other international competitors to demonstrate how Canadian
skaters conform to, or even exceed, traditional societal expectations
of an "appropriate femininity" predicated upon notions of female
bodily discipline. White skin and white bodies are highly valued;
throughout my research, such adjectives as "pure, "luminous" and
"beautiful" were applied to stories told about white female skaters.
One day, for instance, I was sitting talking to a coach about Canada’s
female skaters and I asked him about the technical superiority of
women from other nations and his argument turned (unconsciously
to him) into a racialized and classed one. He compared the skating
styles of Caucasian Canadian skaters like Jennifer Robinson, Elizabeth
Manley, and Joseé Chouinard to the technical prowess of the late
1980s/early 1990s French black skater, Surya Bonaly, and Japan’s
Midori Ito to argue that the former skaters were technically superior,
but valued more for what he perceived to be their "exotic" style,
which, in turn, was considered a threat to their femininity. He
claimed, for example, that;
If we want to be at the top, then our girls have to have all
that, you know, classic sort of a grace like Barbara Ann. You
know, competitors like Surya and Midori Ito, they had the really
masculine, exotic sort of style and yeah, it got them some great
technical marks. I mean, not many women are out there attempting
triple axels. But skating is really all about beauty and sophistication
and all the really powerful women skaters have modeled themselves
after Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, or that sort of a thing.
That’s what our women have to offer and it just comes natural
to them. And I’m not saying they’re not up there technically.
I mean, they’re obviously not as aggressive as someone like Surya,
but she’s never really had the respect, you see. She’s a great
skater, in an exotic kind of a way I suppose, but she’s missing
the classic basics our girls have. And she’s not the nicest person
out there either, let me tell you…
The coach went on to question the training regime of Bonaly, claiming
that she lacked the "initiative of Canadian girls."
 In this ethnographic example, we see how the supposedly "progressive"
identity of the Canadian state is constituted through its juxtaposition
with, and visual objectification of, "exotic" others. Historically,
the spectacularization or exhibition of the non-white bodies of
female "Others" has been a common feature in the construction of
Western nationalist ideologies throughout modernity within the context
of visual spectacles like world fairs, beauty contests, exhibitions,
circuses, and a variety of other exhibitionary regimes (see, for
example, Alloula 1986; Kondo 1997; Mitchell 1988), and figure skating
is no exception. Indeed, the visual display of female bodies in
figure skating represents one locus in which a sense of nationalism
is fostered by feeding off visual representations of otherness and
exoticism in that certain Canadian citizens are encouraged to view
themselves as "civilized" and "enlightened" only when they are able
to contrast themselves with the supposedly less feminine and racialized
"Other." In this way, hierarchies of femininity, predicated partly
upon notions of race and ethnicity, are constructed. Ultimately
then, the above example illustrates the ways in which race and ethnicity
are conflated with notions of an appropriate femininity to constitute
defining features of a dominant Canadian identity.
 Canada’s first official policy of multiculturalism was instituted
in 1971 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to officially recognize
the plurality and ethnic diversity of Canada’s population, and it
has since been upheld by the federal government as a national symbol
for Canadians, and used to provide the nation with a distinct identity.
There have been many critiques of Canada’s multiculturalism policies,
and many scholars claim that Trudeau’s views represent the views
of white, English-Canada (eg. Huggins 1994:56; Mackey 1999:148;
McRoberts 1997:xii; Reitz and Breton 1994). Mackey (1999:148), for
example, insists that, "Canadian nation-building is not based on
the erasure of difference but on controlling and managing it; difference
is allowed, in defined and carefully limited ways, as long as the
project of Canadian nation-building comes first." Similarly,
as Bannerji (2000:42) argues, Canada’s official policies of multiculturalism,
"do not reside in language, religion, or other aspects of culture,
but rather in the European/North American physical origin – in the
body colour of skin." Those outside this ideal of whiteness are
"targets for assimilation or toleration" (Bannerji 2000:42). Multiculturalism
is thus viewed by many as a process that accepts diversity only
as far as it does not disrupt the overall political and cultural
hegemony of white individuals of European descent. In this light,
white female Canadian figure skaters, through their conformity to
pre-existing, idealized notions of femininity, and by extension,
"discipline," provide one benchmark against which notions of "Canadianness"
 In many ways, then, the dominant Caucasian elite in Canadian
society possess the power to define the acceptable boundaries of
Canadianness, a boundary that is dependent upon the notion of "passing"
as white. Lipsitz (1998) discusses the significance of what he calls
a "possessive investment in whiteness." He argues that "whiteness
has cash value"(Lipsitz 1998:vii) and it accounts for the social
advantages and privileges afforded to white people, such as better
access to housing, education, medical care, and employment. Bernardi
(2001) also draws attention to the socio-historical circumstances
in which the concept of "whiteness" is constructed. He outlines
how, at different moments in history, various ethnic groups, such
as Irish and Jewish peoples, have not been considered "white." Ultimately,
Bernardi (2001:xxi) views whiteness and race as a performance about
"passing," and he suggests that;
there are no white people per se, only those who pass as white.
And passing as white, at least in the United States, has almost
always had something to do with "acting" and "looking" - making
The ambiguous, shifting, and culturally constructed nature of the
category of "race" leads to a consideration of the ways in which
non-white people have come to "pass" as white. In other words,
what qualities count as "white" in Canadian figure skating performance,
and why are issues of race so central in the construction of femininity
in Canadian skating?
 Throughout my research, I found that non-white female skaters
were actively encouraged to participate in the sport, provided they
conform to its pre-existing aesthetics. At one skating competition
I attended, for instance, I overheard a skating official comment
upon the skating costume of a young black female competitor, and
she remarked, "she really tries hard, but you know, the costume
really accentuates her muscles compared to the other [white] girls.
She’s got such a unique, exotic flair to her, and an exotic costume.
I think she just maybe needs a little bit of help, you know, and
she’ll come along really well. We can turn her into an ice princess
yet!" In many ways, the Canadian figure skating "community" had
a vested interest in retaining the primarily European cultural
heritage of the sport. The costumes, choreography, and musical
selection for amateur female skaters is expected to conform to a
predominantly European-inspired classical balletic style, with music
and costumes (especially in women’s skating) influenced by classical
music, opera, or ballet. Female skaters that deviate from this norm
are questioned as valid national symbols, and in many instances,
their racial or ethnic background is unconsciously or inadvertently
highlighted in discursive contexts, thereby positioning them outside
the privileged, unmarked category of "whiteness." In categorizing
a female skater as an "ethnic" skater, her femininity, and, by extension,
her citizenship, is questioned. This is what one coach, for instance,
had to say about her female Japanese-Canadian skaters:
I have about three young [female] skaters with a Japanese heritage,
and they’re just great...very polite and hard-working. Originally,
you know, when they came to me, they had some bad techniques they’d
been taught by another Japanese coach, and absolutely no finesse
or style really. Bad, wonky Japanese music they were skating
to too, which didn’t really accentuate their femininity, you know.
Well, I guess I shouldn’t really say that. It wasn’t bad music,
it just wasn’t suitable here, in skating, you know. But we were
able to work the kinks out of them, and now they’re maybe even
better than some of the Canadian skaters I’ve got. [They’re] now
very graceful. They’ve come such a long way, but before, it was
really difficult. We want them to blend in with skating and to
realize what a beautiful sport it is and how a beautiful girl
should act and perform with grace, you know?
The coach’s comparison between her "Japanese" and "Canadian" skaters
left me confused as to whether the former students were Japanese
international students from Japan, or Canadian skaters, so I asked:
Karen: So, your Japanese skaters are just here visiting from
Japan to get training?
Coach: Oh no, their parents moved to Canada about ten years ago,
and they have dual citizenship.
Karen: Oh, okay. I was just confused as to whether they were
visiting or not.
The coach’s initial remark, that, "now they’re maybe even better
than some of the Canadian skaters I’ve got" sets up an interesting
juxtaposition that positions her female Japanese-Canadian skaters
outside of the unmarked category of white "Canadian" skaters.
Whiteness is thus constructed as a category of natural citizenship
whereas the Japanese-Canadian skaters’ citizenship hinged upon their
ability to "pass" as white. Furthermore, the coach’s comment concerning
the inability of the "wonky Japanese" music to accentuate the femininity
of the girls’ bodies, demonstrates the narrow range of socially
acceptable femininities in Canadian skating performance, and the
ways in which "whiteness" merges with notions of femininity.
 The above comments also highlight some important considerations
concerning the increasingly visible presence of female skaters from
Asian backgrounds in elite North American skating and the ways in
which North Americans of Asian descent are oftentimes positioned
as "honorary whites" (Tuan 1999). In the United States, two of
the most commercially successful and recognizable female champions
are Kristi Yamaguchi (the 1992 Olympic gold medalist) and, more
recently, the four-time World champion and Olympian, Michelle Kwan.
Canada also possesses a high number of elite female skaters of Japanese,
Korean, and Chinese heritage, although none have yet won any World
or Olympic titles. Such skaters, I argue, are accepted into the
predominantly "white" world of figure skating, and have achieved
widespread media attention, not only due to their athletic achievements,
but because Asian-American females are frequently positioned by
the dominant (white) North American culture as "naturally" hyper-feminine,
disciplined, and modest – all qualities of an ideal female skating
champion that facilitates their ability to "pass" as white in the
figure skating community. Many scholars (eg Hamamoto 1994; Lowe
1996; Kondo 1997) argue that Asian-Americans, in general, are feminized
in dominant Western discourses. Kondo (1997), for example, in her
analysis of gendered stereotypes in David Henry Hwang’s play, M.Butterfly,
argues that the origin of Western stereotypes of the hyper-feminized,
demure, polite, and shy Asian woman are rooted in nineteenth and
early twentieth century colonizing narratives which seek to position
the West as a masculinist, colonial and imperial superpower. Such
stereotypes concerning the perceived natural or biological basis
for the "femininity" of Asian women have persisted in many of the
stories of the coaches and skaters I spoke with. Throughout my fieldwork,
I found that Japanese and Chinese skaters were highly valued by
their (usually white) Canadian coaches for their perceived inherent
qualities of femininity. As one coach said to me,
Jacqueline is so disciplined, just like the other Japanese girls
I’ve got here. It’s, you know, a real part of their culture.
And that just makes it so easy to train in skating. And she’s
such a lady. That just comes real natural to her – we didn’t
have to work on that. Just a little work changing the music and
the costumes, you know.
In other words, because many female skaters of Asian descent are
thought to be "naturally" endowed with an idealized femininity,
they require only "a little work" to ensure that they "pass" as
white and are socialized into mainstream definitions of socially
appropriate gender roles in figure skating.
 The extent to which racial or ethnic difference is managed
and marginalized in Canadian figure skating is oftentimes quite
obvious, and the link between notions of discipline, femininity,
and race are also readily apparent in the following example. I
went to a local skating rink one day to watch a competition among
singles female skaters. There was one black female skater in the
competition, and she placed third. Afterward, I found her mother
and talked to her while "Kathy" was getting changed. Below is a
transcipt of our discussion:
Mother: she’s been doing really well in skating here I think.
She saw it so much on the T.V. when she was about 4, and wanted
to just be a figure skater. It’s hard though being black and
trying to fit into this sport. At one competition we went to
last year, I think, Kathy’s aunt did her hair in these gorgeous
long braids and it took her more than half the day to do it.
She got it done just to wear it at a competition. She skated
well, and was ranked well; she came in third place. I thought
she should have come second, mind you. No one could have beaten
the top girl though. First was a stretch because she wobbled
on her sit spin. Anyway, you won’t believe what a judge came
and said to me! He came over and said something like, "Kathy’s
a very talented skater. I think though that she was looking a
little too ethnic and maybe she should tone down that unruly hair
and it might improve her score, plus make her more ladylike."
Well, you know, I was real mad. I said to him, "what do you mean
by that?," and he backed off a little, but he said, "maybe she
could put it in a neat bun." I complained to her coach right after.
I mean, they shouldn’t be losing a placement because someone doesn’t
like her hair. Her coach just said to me, "yeah, I know that
was really inappropriate, but I’d have to agree a bit with him.
Her hair is a bit much. It’s always best to go with a minimalist
look to keep everyone happy," or something like that.
Karen: So what did you do after that?
Mother: Well, we tried that in the next competition, and no one
has complained about her hair since, so if it shuts them up and
makes everyone happy, then so be it.
Once again, we see how in figure skating, "passing" as white is
an essential component of a female skater’s competitive success.
This can occur by changing a skater’s music selection (as was
the case in the previous example of Japanese-Canadian skaters) to
conform to the more "traditional" European-influenced classical
musical traditions, or by altering a skater’s physical appearance
or costume to what is perceived to be a "white" aesthetic. The example
above also highlights my earlier point concerning the connection
between femininity and "discipline" in Canadian skating. The fact
that the judge made a connection between this black skater’s "unruly,"
"ethnic" hair and an undisciplined, "unladylike" demeanor once again
highlights how an appropriate "national" femininity is predicated
upon particular notions of race.
Social Class and Femininity in Women’s Figure Skating
 While figure skating in general is a sport that requires a
high level of individual discipline, bodily "discipline," as outlined
above, was often viewed by spectators, coaches, and skaters as
an inherent quality of Canadian women, and it was frequently linked
with notions not only of race and ethnicity, but social class as
well. This portion of my paper therefore discusses the convergences
between "femininity," nationalism, and class in Canadian skating.
This relationship was often made material through my informants’
discursive juxtapositions between the seemingly disciplined bodies
of Canadian skaters and, as one informant described them, the "slack,"
"lazy" bodies of American skaters. Americans, it seems, are perceived
as lacking qualities of discipline and persistent comparisons between
skaters from the two countries reified a perceived superiority of
the Canadian skating body and legitimated its utility as a national
symbol. Canadian women, for example, were often constructed as the
more "feminine" women - a category frequently judged by particular
conceptions of class.
 Stoloff (1995) argues that in figure skating, notions of femininity
and social class converge. Indeed, social class has historically
been a standard by which one’s "femininity" is measured. "Lower
class" individuals are believed to be excessive bodies that lack
bodily containment and control, important indices of femininity.
Stoloff (1995:228) observes, for example, how the media was particularly
fond of filming the masculinized body of Tonya Harding, with her
poorly designed, ill-fitting costumes and "heavy thighs" while she
was using her asthma inhaler. Such representations were popular
because they signified a lack of control, not so much because Harding
had asthma, but because she was a smoker. Her cigarette smoking
rapidly became a signifier of her undesirable, low social status
and a carelessness about her body.
 Throughout my fieldwork, I found that discursive comparisons
between Canadian and American skaters frequently position Canadians
as belonging to a higher social class. Oftentimes, the stories of
some of my skating informants were replete with notions of genetic
parallels between nation and class. Despite the fact that America
has produced a number of stereotypical, "feminine ice princesses,"
that Canadian skaters (perhaps unconsciously) seek to emulate, such
as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Sarah Hughes,
and Tara Lipinski, it was Tonya Harding who was the favourite topic
of conversation among my Canadian informants. One skater I interviewed
mentioned that the Tonya Harding incident, for instance, "was not
surprising to me really. Canadian skaters have too much class for
something like that to go on [in Canada]." I discussed the event
in another context with a Canadian corporate sponsor who asked,
"well, what can you expect from Americans?" She went on to say
I think we [Canadians] want to show that our skaters are well-bred,
if you excuse that phrase. I mean, we don’t want any Tonya Hardings
up here, thank you very much. I think for Canadians that would
be really embarrassing to us. And I don’t think that sort of
thing would happen here. We just don’t have people in skating
like that up here. It’s something you’d expect from Americans
though, isn’t it? You’re not going to see any of our girls on
Jerry Springer, that’s for sure. Tonya, you know, never really
had the dedication and strength of training we have here.
American skaters like Tonya Harding are not deemed to possess marketability
or consumer appeal, largely due to, as one informant referred to
Harding, "her trailer trash ways." Furthermore, Harding, with
her "trailer trash" sensibilities, is clearly identified in the
above quote as an "American," and came to serve as a metaphor for
the ways in which a sense of "Canadianness" is constructed out of
difference to the United States. The Canadian sponsor claims that
such an individual would not rise to a similar level of athletic
achievement in a nation like Canada, thereby highlighting how notions
of Canadian national identity are inscribed onto the bodies of female
 The circulation of Harding’s image on what my informant perceived
as "lower-class" talk shows served to diminish Harding’s appeal
as a skater. Her inability to adhere to a strict training regime
was also viewed as lacking in an acceptable level of social class
and feminine restraint, a common critique levelled against American
female competitors. At one skating competition I attended, for instance,
another spectator had this to say about a female American skater,
whose increased weight was viewed as an index of her lack of control
and personal discipline. Her lack of "discipline," however, was
also considered a sign of her association with a lower social class,
which, in turn, served as a means of defining a sense of "Canadianness:"
I don’t want to be really critical or anything, but has she put
on weight? I think I read somewhere that she’d been having some
eating problems and some people had seen her eating out with big
meals and drinking. That’s just so not classy. Oh-there’s Jennifer
Robinson [Canadian skater].What a pretty costume! I read she
[Jennifer Robinson] has really gone through a lot to get here...
Such comparisons illustrate how the female body operates as a tool
in the production of a sense of Canadian identity. Through discursive
comparisons of Canadian skaters with the supposedly inferior, "lower
class" American female bodies, a sense of national pride is cultivated.
Even more meaningful is the fact that Canadians typically view themselves
as victims of American foreign policy and American consumerism.
Canadian identity discourses, as is the case in the Robinson example
above, derive their authority, in part, from the ability to define
themselves out of difference to the United States. In many ways,
however, the globalizing tendencies of American consumer culture
are simultaneously appropriated and subverted in the narratives
of my Canadian informants. American consumerism (and, by extension,
America itself) has come to be associated with the sort of excessive,
lower-class, "un-pure" femininity embodied by skaters like Tonya
Harding. At the same time, however, there exists a strong desire
to emulate American Hollywood icons, and to appropriate, if only
briefly, the perceived "power" and prestige of such symbols for
the production of a Canadian national identity, a concept elaborated
upon below. Ultimately, in Canadian women’s figure skating, dominant
images of femininity and class are syncretized with discourses of
Canadian nationalism partly through the trope of nostalgia, addressed
below, which functions as a unifying, or centripetal discourse in
its effort to merge particular conceptions of femininity with that
of the nation.
Nostalgia and Social Class
 Throughout my research, I was fascinated by the fact that
many of my informants’ stories, based on Canada’s "official" skating
history, were dependent upon evoking an idealized sense of the past
to undermine what is perceived as a disparaging present. Many coaches
I spoke with were quick to critique the supposed "evils" of modern
society that currently plague young female skaters, including junk
food, drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. The proliferation of these
types of narratives was not surprising, and many scholars have argued
that there has been a resurgence of nostalgic remembrances or reinterpretations
of the past in postmodernity. Kathleen Stewart (1998:227), for
example, observes that:
…nostalgia rises to importance as a cultural practice as culture
becomes more and more diffuse…as culture takes on the power of
‘distance’ that comes of displacing speakers – the power to flatten
distinctions, to blur genres, to unname the practice of the social
world so that they look like nature.
Representations of the glamorous bodies of past Canadian skating
icons like Barbara Ann Scott, the perenially "white," "ladylike"
and glamorous competitor, are popular in media discourses. At many
of the National Championships I watched on Canadian networks, nostalgic
background videographies were integrated with clips of present-day
Canadian skaters who were captured on film while spinning or jumping,
thereby implicating a continuity between past and present. On CTV’s
coverage of the 2001 Canadian championships, for example, Scott
was hailed for her "glamour, poise, and grace," and the commentator
went on to suggest that these qualities "endure in our [female]
champions today." The media thus inform audiences of "acceptable"
representations of Canada wherein nostalgia operates as an educational
device which seeks to discipline new generations of Canadians about
figure skating’s past, thereby, in many instances, perpetuating
static, monolithic representations of female bodies to represent
 Indeed, the public’s nostalgic remembrances of former sports
heroes like Scott are an important component of many nationalist
ideologies, and are frequently used to foster the illusion of hegemonic,
enduring identities in the face of internal and external change.
Through an exploration of the sport of rugby, Nauright (2000), for
instance, discusses how mediated representations of rugby have been
employed in many countries, and especially in England, Australia,
and New Zealand, as a means of preserving a conservative, mainstream
masculinity and as a way to "preserve remnants of past glories or
of fading social values in the face of immigration and changing
values" (Nauright 2000:228).
 Many nostalgic discourses of skating, it seems, stress the
importance of social class, and the ability to "improve" one’s social
standing through a combination of hard work and recourse to nostalgic
remembrances of the virtues and aesthetics of past Canadian champions.
Female skaters are expected to conform in appearance and demeanor
to icons like Scott, who are upheld as acceptable and desirable
symbols of femininity. In fact, with the exception of the technical
requirements, the costumes, choreography, and musical selection
in women’s skating have remained fairly static in the past fifty
years, with each new generation of female skaters seeking to replicate
the styles of former skaters.
 Nostalgic remembrances of the past were evident in the importance
female skaters attached to their costumes as an index of their "femininity"
– a femininity predicated upon an upper class, Hollywoodized ideal
of female beauty. During an interview I conducted with one female
skater who asked to remain anonymous, she brought out her favourite
skating costumes and was fingering an elaborate black skating costume
made of two types of fine fabric. She said to me, "I didn’t want
one of those machine-made dresses like the other girls wear." She
talked at length about the importance of the embroidery, and how
she selected an expensive, rare Belgian lace, stressing its "one-of-a-kind"
features – qualities that somehow set her apart from those skaters
wearing supposedly inferior, mass-produced costumes. The individuality
of her costume, and the care taken in the selection of materials
and design, were indicative of her desire to re-create the perceived
romance of the past, and she stated that, "this is the type of thing
that Barbara Ann Scott would have worn. This type of material was
really popular during that period in the 40s in Hollywood, that
whole style of beauty and that time. A lot of actresses were using
this sort of material at that time. I feel so beautiful when I
wear it and I’m, you know, proud." Media discourses surrounding
her costume also consisted of approving discussions of the "fine
details" and "one-of-a kind" nature, which was juxtaposed against
the "machine made" costumes of her two American competitors. At
two different points throughout the broadcast, television journalists
likened her image to that of Scott.
 The significance of costumes to my informants demonstrates
the extent to which their narratives were mediated by notions of
time, and particularly by highly idealized references to a romantic,
celebrated past that is made material and tangible through reference
to material things. Of particular relevance here is the way in
which the costume above was discursively constructed as an item
of conspicuous consumption. In other words, the expensive, imported
fabric and fine detailing were commented upon not only to link the
skater to past skating icons, but also to distinguish the skater
from the more common, less exclusive world of mass-produced skating
costumes. The expense and labour involved in the production of
her costume was invoked as a sign of her superior status, her femininity,
and, in many ways, her "Canadianness." Of particular relevance is
that, at a competition I attended in Canada where the above skater
wore this particular costume, she also received substantial media
attention from the American press. Interestingly, many Canadian
reporters reported on this phenomenon, and there was much approving
discussion among the Canadian media about the American coverage
of the skater in question. In other words, many Canadian reporters,
instead of covering the competition itself, chose to report on how
the Americans were reporting about this Canadian skater, and one
Canadian media member I spoke with, for example, remarked that,
"it’s great she’s becoming such a national icon and getting this
sort of attention in the States. She’s a wonderful, beautiful,
polite girl and she just deserves it….[she is] just like a star…"
 Ultimately, such discourses provide an opportunity for an
exploration of how national identity narratives are interwoven with
transnational and global forces, and in particular, within a global
visual culture that, at present, "may be described, without too
much exaggeration, as being saturated with the products and influence
of Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and CNN" (Messaris 2001:189). In
many ways, the "identity" of Canadian female skaters is thus constituted,
in an ambiguous way, through the simultaneous acceptance and rejection
of "American" imagery. The next section of my paper discusses how
Joseé Chouinard was constructed as an idealized metaphor
for Canadian femininity that links together notions of class and
Regionalisms and Femininity in Canadian Figure Skating
 As I have pointed out, female figure skaters are recognized
as valuable commodities to advertisers who unconsciously link identities
of gender, race, class, and the nation with nostalgic discourses
for an idealized past. This is what one sponsor I spoke with had
to say about his company’s sponsorship of Canadian champion Joseé
She is just like the girl next door, you know - sweet, beautiful,
nice. She’s the nicest girl you’ll ever meet. Very polite. She
reminds me of Barbara Ann and Karen Magnussen in style… so refined...
[She is] just what Canadians are looking for in their sports heroes.
Within Canadian skating, nostalgic pre-event video and verbal television
commentaries force spectators to reflect on past Canadian champions
who are routinely fawned over, and clips of early black and white
video images invoke a sense of nostalgia for a glorified past.
Discourses surrounding Chouinard’s move to Toronto to train valorized
her new-found conformity to pre-existing feminine ideals espoused
by skaters like Scott – an aesthetic that, as I will demonstrate,
relied upon her transformation from a "French-Canadian" skater to
a "Canadian" skater. This transformation is predicated upon Chouinard’s
appropriation of English "mainstream" culture, and particularly
of the imagery (in the form of costumes, hairstyles, and music selection)
of former female icons of Canadian skating and other "glamorous"
 In the process of conducting fieldwork, I observed that there
were distinct regional differences in attitudes toward training
techniques and skating philosophies. When I inquired about the trademarks
or unique qualities of students at their skating school, coaches
would always be able to label a "distinctive style" that their skaters
possessed. Doug Haw of the Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling
Club had this to say:
Our skaters are really packaged well. That’s because Mrs. Burka
had a great deal of influence from her balletic style, with a
very stretched finishing position from the Toller Cranston era
when she stressed a very extended free leg that’s elevated and
with your arms out. I think our skaters here have amazing finish.
That’s kind of our trademark.
Another coach from the same club told me that, "our skaters are
very classical skaters, and technically sound. This comes from
the training of Mrs. Burka and Mr. Galbraith and their influence.
We’re not over-the-top in our style like some other training places.
Subtlety is best." Most Anglophone high level coaches had strong
(usually negative) opinions about the skating styles of other schools/regions,
and particularly Quebec. According to one prominent Ontario coach:
French skaters from Quebec are known as going really fast and
their costumes to me are over the top...way too much beading and
way too much make-up. The little girls look trashy like Jon Benet
Ramsey. When you see them, it’s like, oh my gosh, you can tell
they’re from Quebec. We don’t want any of that here [at our club].
I mean they’re great skaters, but when you talk to [primarily
Anglophone] judges, it’s almost like they just wish they could
mark them down for being a stylistic fiasco. They’re diamonds-in-the-rough.
One Skate Canada representative and former world medalist, was
more generous in her assessment of Quebec’s skaters:
I think there’s a different energy with Quebec skaters at a younger
level. I had the fortune to direct a training centre in Atlantic
Canada for three years. It was an initiative with the Association
to create these regional training centres and we had a number
of French Canadian skaters and there was a different energy, a
different sort of approach and attitude to their training and
skating experience. I think that’s part of it. It’s not the
same as the American attitude but certainly I think there’s much
more assertiveness or aggression in the younger French skaters
at an earlier age. I think if you go to a national championship,
the Quebec skaters have this tie language, experience,
customs, home environment, most are bilingual, and they easily
float in and out of languages. I think though, it’s the high
energy. They run and talk at the same time. That type of energy
you don’t necessarily see with the other Canadian kids or training
Karen: Is there a distinct Quebecois style?
Valerie: I think the young French skaters are very aggressive.
I think the young skaters from the rest of the country are a little
more refined, a little better packaged at an earlier age depending
on the resources they have. It’s just a better, more classy presentation.
 Increasingly, it appears that local styles of skating, costuming,
and demeanor are being subsumed by hegemonic, Toronto-based perceptions
of what constitutes an appropriate female "style" at the national
level - a style that is increasingly predicated, at the elite level,
on global societal aesthetics. After training in Laval for her
entire amateur career, Chouinard moved to Toronto in preparation
for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics to train at the Granite Club under
well-known coach Louis Stong and renowned choreographer, Sandra
Bezic. Although never acknowledged explicitly, stories surrounding
Chouinard’s career label the move as a major success story. While
always a talented and successful skater, Chouinard, as the reigning
national champion, received, in the words of one Ontario coach
I talked with, a "makeover" in terms of choreography, program selection,
costuming, and coaching styles. People gushed at the final result.
Skating to the music from La Fille Mal Gardeé and An American
in Paris, she was transformed into, in the words of one coach,
"a subtle, sophisticated, understated lady." Other people likened
her to Audrey Hepburn. At one point in her career, Chouinard even
mimicked Hepburn’s clothing and hairstyle by skating to the song,
Moon River from Hepburn’s famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s,
 Quebec produces the majority of the nation’s top skaters.
This is due, in part, to the fact that there exists a much larger
provincial funding budget for amateur sport in Quebec than any other
province. In addition, coaching and training fees in Quebec are
lower, thereby enabling a larger proportion of the population to
participate in the sport. While Quebec’s skaters are recognized
for their high speed and excellent technical ability, many top female
skaters receive their "finishing" at top private Anglophone institutions,
primarily in Ontario and Alberta. Others receive training from
 The bodies of Quebec’s skaters, then, as evidenced in the
Chouinard example, are often characterized by Anglophone Canadian
skating discourses as "excessive." Bodily excess, in the form
of the heavy make-up and ornate costumes is associated with a variety
of identities, including that of a lower class status (see, for
example, Sweeney 1997). The discursive construction of the bodies
of many of Quebec’s skaters as "overly aggressive" and "made-up"
positions them in an unfavourable position for involvement in the
production of a national identity, and, for the most part, the style,
costuming, and demeanor of their female skaters is suppressed or
altered at high levels of competition. This example is indicative
of a much larger phenomenon in the politics of the formation of
official discourses of the nation, and the ways in which certain
identities are marginalized.
 Unlike many of my informants, I find absolutely no physical
similarity between Joseé Chouinard and Audrey Hepburn. Nevertheless,
these discursive analogies, as I previously mentioned, demonstrate
the degree to which the nation’s understanding of contemporary
Canadian society is mediated by global flows of popular entertainment
culture, and the fact that much of this culture originates in the
United States. Messaris (2001:186), for example, asks, "what are
the consequences of being immersed mentally in a world of T.V. and
movies for such a large and regular portion of one’s existence?"
Ultimately, the control of television networks over the production
of hegemonic Canadian identities are maintained by corporate sponsors
who recognize that such images draw viewers and make lucrative sponsorships.
One sponsor I spoke with, for instance, gushed over Joseé
Chouinard, claiming that she was, "the essence of the Canadian spirit.
She’s a lovely, classy lady."
 Chouinard’s transformation into a "lady" of high social class
and, by extension, of national worth, occurred through a "refinement"
of her on-ice appearance and technique in well-established, urban
skating clubs. Her status as a skater of national significance
is also fostered by the fact that her image became highly marketable
in international circles. The hegemony of Toronto and other large
centers in the production of skating bodies for national and international
consumption serves to exclude particular styles of skating from
many areas of the country, including those from Quebec, despite
the fact that Quebec actually produces the majority of skating champions
at the national or international level. When I discussed this concept
with some Quebecois coaches, they felt that the national and international
circulation of their skaters was the important thing to consider,
and were proud that their skaters were able to "make it" to the
elite centres for their "refinement."
 This paper has sought to understand how a "socially appropriate"
femininity is constructed and performed in Canadian figure skating
and how conceptions of femininity are linked with particular notions
of race, class, and national identity. Most recently, with the increasingly
significant role of advertisers and media networks in the production
of national identities, the constant media presence of figures like
female skaters in the Canadian and international media aids in the
production of various sorts of hegemonic gendered identities for
public consumption. Many people I spoke with, like Kathy’s mother,
for example, were cognizant of the oftentimes overt racism and classism
within the sport, and I found many examples of subtle or even overt
resistance to the dominant aesthetics promoted in skating. Many
skaters, for example, wore various accessories that were disapproved
of by judges, or they styled their hair in ways they had been cautioned
against. One skater I spoke with wore a nose ring during her competition,
despite having been cautioned against such "extreme" and "unladylike"
behavior that ran counter to the clean-cut sort of image figure
skating wants to promote. Nevertheless, because the majority of
coaches, officials, and judges are trained within a particular "white
aesthetic," as described throughout my paper, those skaters who
seek to question or subvert figure skating’s narrow range of "acceptable"
female aesthetics are taught or disciplined to conform to dominant,
Euro-Canadian aesthetics if they wish to win competitions. Furthermore,
the consistent media presence of skaters like Chouinard serves to
educate Canadians about appropriate gender norms.
Ultimately, the discourses of many of my informants reinforced a
particular classed, racialized imagery that functioned, at times,
as a narrative about anti-diversity.
 Many female skaters are frequently framed in the media as
passive, modest, "innocent" (and thereby "feminine") victims at
the hands of American powers. For example, in a highly publicized
incident at the 1994 Olympics, Chouinard was scheduled to skate
immediately following Tonya Harding. A few seconds into her program,
Harding’s skate lace broke, and after crying and explaining her
situation to the referee, she was given the opportunity to find
new laces and skate at the end of her flight of skaters. Chouinard
was then forced onto the ice prior to her scheduled start time,
with deleterious consequences. Visibly nervous, Chouinard fell
several times throughout her performance. Several years later,
I interviewed a former Canadian skater about his thoughts on the
event, and he remarked:
this is just another instance of the corruption of Tonya. This
leads one to wonder if the U.S. Skating Federation should have
let her compete here at all. I question the integrity of the
organizers. Joseé is such a beautiful skater, and I think we’d
all agree that she doesn’t need to be made a part of this vulgar
American spectacle. I would have challenged the referee’s decision.
The Chouinard example illustrates how qualities of female vulnerability
are simultaneously promoted and destabilized in Canadian skating,
a quality I commented upon earlier in my discussion of training
regimes. This was true even among Canadian spectators when I asked
their opinions of some of Canada’s top female skaters in the last
decade, and these were some of their responses:
Oh, she’s [Chouinard] such a beautiful skater, a beautiful girl.
But she goes and falls all the time! At least she’s not mouthy
like that American I saw on T.V. the other day.
The Americans are so much better than us, but that comes at a
price. They’re different, tougher. Joseé is amazing.
She’s beautiful, a real lady.
 In many ways, then, Chouinard, like many other female skaters,
is discursively constructed as a reminder of the vulnerability of
the nation in an increasingly globalized climate. At the same time,
however, her visual appropriation of, and nostalgia for, the clothing
and imagery of Hollywood film stars, and the overwhelmingly approving
response she attained from Canadian fans and the media, highlights
aspects of the critically important role American and other global
forces play in the constitution of a hegemonic Canadian identity,
and to the tension between national and global forces in the construction
of national representations. Ultimately, figure skating, as one
locus for the production of identities, represents an important
forum for an analysis of the intersections between race, class,
and gender in Canadian society. Many of the narratives of my informants
serve to problematize or question "official" Canadian discourses
which position multiculturalism and diversity as a Canadian "ideal."
In doing so, they draw attention to the continuing power of Anglo-Canadian
culture to define acceptable boundaries of "Canadianness," – an
identity predicated, in part, upon particular, narrowly defined
conceptions of an "acceptable femininity."
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council of Canada for providing funding for this project.
I am also grateful to the anonymous GENDERS reviewers as well as
Penny Van Esterik, David Murray, and especially Kenneth Little.
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KAREN MCGARRY conducted ethnographic research among high
performance Canadian figure skaters between 2000 and 2002, and she
received her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from York University in
2003. She currently teaches in the departments of Anthropology at
both York and Trent universities in Ontario, Canada.