BODY/IMAGE/NARRATIVE: CONTEMPORARY RHETORIC OF BODY SHAPE AND SIZE
Brown, Sonya Christine
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The dissertation examines body shape and size from a rhetorical perspective as ethos, or character, in contemporary American culture. The analysis is primarily of narrative and visual texts that proliferated in the debate over ideal body size and shape that has emerged in the last fifteen years. By demonizing fatness and glamorizing slenderness for women and muscularity for men, our culture has rendered all bodies' shapes and sizes rhetorical. The body as material and visual rhetoric is interpretable as representative of character, with the fat body representing a lack of the virtues that seem inherent in the lean body: health, fitness, discipline, beauty. Narratives written about individual's bodies, including weight loss success stories, eating disorder memoirs, size acceptance narratives, and films that feature actors in fat suits, have the possibility to maintain or challenge prevailing views about body shape and size and the relationship between body shape and size and character/ethos. The four narrative genres studied have emerged in mainstream cultural productions rather than what might be considered alternative media, and come from a wide variety of popular sources. These narrative genres, and also the visuals that accompany or transmit the narratives, are important pieces of the debate over acceptable body shape and size for men and women. The last fifteen years of the debate have brought with them changes to mainstream media through challenges to the ideal body image for women, though men, particularly heterosexual men, have limited venues through which to challenge media representations of ideal male physiques.