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Undisciplined Bodies: Race, Size and Sexuality in U.S. Media and Culture


Our bodies are multiply marked, and so often speak for us from aesthetic scripts which have been historically crafted. My dissertation, “Undisciplined Bodies: Race, Size, and Sexuality in U.S. Media and Culture,” takes up fatness and its intersections as one exemplary embodiment to explore the question: which history is told through the roles in which our bodies are cast? I situate fat embodiment in the contemporary moment within the historical production of bodily aesthetics through race, colonization and the erotic. I look to cultural performances and discursive valuations of body size to trace the negotiation of power by both fat and non-fat embodied subjects. Centering racial and gender minoritarian subjects, I tend to how fatness performs and is performed—even in its own absence— across mediums and by a variety of social actors. I use ‘size’ as an entry point to consider the necessarily relational positioning of fat and non-fat bodies, offering a framework for analysis.

Chapter one, “Bold, Bright and Tight: Fat Queer Media and Fat Aesthetics” traces my own identarian development through the fat queer media icons I encountered. It connects the influence of media to quotidian interventions and theorizes what I term fat aesthetics. In my second chapter, “‘When He Fuck Me Good I Take His Ass to Red Lobster’: Beyoncé, Fat Erotics and Collective Liberation,” Beyoncé’s sonic and visual work offers an entry point to locate one artist’s response to histories of racial abjection. I use the lyric from her song “Formation” quoted in the title as exemplary of what I term fat erotics. I argue her simultaneous engagement of Modern Black Nationalist aesthetics in the song offers an entry point to coalition for non-Black fat activists specifically. My third chapter, “Let’s Get Sickening: Queers of Color, Size and the Performance of Health Aesthetics” studies fat embodiment and disordered eating in the context of the hit reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race. I then close read a conversation from season 9 in which two contestants of color, Valentina and Shea Couleé, articulate explicit genealogies between their own histories of disordered eating and the aesthetic demands of a gay male sexual and social life. I place pressure on these practices, while historicizing them within larger projects of racial formation, sexual disciplining and social belonging not often otherwise offered to queers of color. In “Our Beautiful Gainer Goddess: Mark Aguhar on the Aesthetics and Erotics of Power Exchange,” I explore a performance by the late artist Mark Aguhar as a fantasy restaging the colonial encounter in which the artist uses contemporary scripts of power exchange to access pleasure and agency within a historicized body.

My primary intervention makes fat embodiment legible to other scholars and activists of embodied difference, integrating analyses of size into coalitional anti-oppression movements. While I focus on fat embodiment as a case study to unpack the co-constitutive processes of discourse and oppressive materialities, in addition to cultural production that both reflects and responds to the questions at hand, I am adamant that this process is by no means unique to the fat body. I conceptualize this phenomenon as analogous to the processes of racializing, gendering and sexualizing of the body that concern Ethnic and Gender Studies—along with their many subfields—insisting that these inquiries are, too, questions of the body. I push these fields to consider how tending to the somatic complicates an analysis of race, class, gender and ability for each particular social actor.

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