‘”Never Too Rich or Too Thin” Readings About the Fat Body’
By Dr Liz Harris
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Liz Harris
CIRCL PhD student Liz Harris passed her viva on 18-10-2021 with her PhD thesis on ‘”Never Too Rich or Too Thin”: Readings About the Fat Body’. Supervisor: Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein; External Examiner: Dr Hannah Anglin-Jaffe of the University of Exeter; Internal Examiner: Dr Neil Cocks.
Abstract of thesis
There has been a great deal of writing already on women’s bodies, especially the overweight or ‘fat’ woman’s body, including thousands of books on dieting or weight/ fat acceptance. My thesis, however, draws on the arguments of Judith Butler both to interpret the implications of Butler’s arguments in specific ways and then to apply the implications of that interpretation to reading a range of texts (including websites, NHS policy documents and advertising materials) in this area differently. In this sense, this thesis critiques readings of Butler’s work which retain notions of a real residual body and, instead, reads in perspective in terms of what is at stake in these claims about women’s bodies.
I further draw on Michel Foucault’s works on bodies and power, particularly the idea of body in a neoliberal society in order to read notions of power, surveillance, and control in perspective.
I take a psychoanalytical approach to a range of texts, not to claim to discover a ‘truth’ or an answer in them through this, but as a way of reading perspective, engaging with psychoanalytical and psychological ideas (Sigmund Freud, Susie Orbach) as ways of reading ideas of the ‘fat’ female body as site of danger and disgust (Mary Douglas, Julia Kristeva). This production of a ‘proper’ and ‘desirable’ body in texts which define bodies in this way (David Bainbridge), leads to questions on what should be done with improper, undesirable bodies, and what implications that produces in the removal of this undesirability.
The purpose of the thesis, then, is not to add yet another ‘solution’ to how to lose weight or how to accept the body, but instead to analyse the ‘body’ and ‘fat’ as constructions and to read in what perspective those constructions are claimed to be known.