Year

1998

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department of English

Abstract

Body size is intrinsic to contemporary Western femininity. Disciplines of health and beauty not only shape the female body but define the limits of the form. Body size and eating is a topic that touches on the lives of most women in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In this thesis I explore the parameters of the fat body, problematise popular notions of fatness, and look at the way in which body size is fundamental to the social construction of femininity in the post colonial, contemporary societies of Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

This thesis is not about obesity or about medically-defined excess, it is about cultural ideas of fatness, and the way in which fatness is inscribed upon forms in excess of the "docile body". I am interested in the way in which fatness intersects with docility, the institutionally-desired disciplined body of idealised (and reduced) femininity, and the ramifications for both fat and docile bodies.

The body addressed in this thesis is a textual one. Literature is a means by which to illuminate the discursive practices of society, and by contextualising literature within historical and cultural debates, it becomes possible to see the way in which the body at the centre of a text is constructed and positioned with regard to a number of competing discourses. It is also possible to identify the ways in which the feminine body is marked by, and negotiates, the processes of cultural inscription. The visual image, also, is a powerful medium through which socio-cultural images are reflected and challenged, and so I include a discussion of film within the thesis. In the following seven chapters selected films and novels from Australia, Canada and New Zealand are positioned within cultural, political and national contexts that impact upon the meanings of fatness.

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