Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Hillary Parkhouse


Big-Bodied Black women in the United States have perpetually navigated the veritable dichotomy of being hyper-visible and invisible (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2003; Fleetwood, 2001; Strings, 2019). Fat Black female bodies have borne the burden of exaggerated tropes and exploitation throughout history, stripping them of their femininity and humanity and resulting in a unique form of objectification (Strings, 2019). Inconsistent messages about BBWs, their bodies, and their value in society have endured for generations. They have been essential in constructing the controlling images of Black womanhood in the U.S. (Collins, 2000). The controlling images all evoked thoughts about the suitability of Black women as laborers and leaders (Collins, 2020). Under the dominant gaze, Black women have been best suited for low-skilled domestic and service-related jobs like childcare and teaching. These assumptions become even more problematic when considered along with nineteenth- and twentieth-century concerns about the professionalization of teaching (Ingersoll, 2018; Labaree, 1992). During that time, teaching became “prototypical women’s work” and synonymous with notions of motherhood and caregiving (Labaree, 1992). The professionalization of teaching and the iconography surrounding the BBW prompted questions about the intersectional effects of racialized sexism and anti-fat bias on the lived experiences of BBW educators. The purpose of the present phenomenological study was to explore the particularities of embodiment for BBWs in academic contexts. The tenets of Black feminism, womanism, intersectionality, and the theory of excess flesh contributed to a dialectical framework that helped me analyze participants’ accounts of individual experiences and elucidate the structures of the phenomenon of being a BBW educator. The findings from this study will be helpful in efforts to resolve the crisis of recruiting, retaining, and supporting Black women educators (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017) and remove the barriers that prevent discursive bodies from having equitable access to educational institutions in general.


© Kendra Johnson

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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission