Unfit Women: Freedom and Constraint in the Pursuit of Health

Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology, and the Arts 4 (13):58-77 (2013)
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Feminist phenomenology has contributed significantly to understanding the negative impact of the objectification of women’s bodies. The celebration of thin bodies as beautiful and the demonization of fat bodies as unattractive is a common component of that discussion. However, when one turns toward the correlation of fat and poor health, a feminist phenomenological approach is less obvious. In this paper, previous phenomenological work on the objectification of women is paralleled to the contemporary encouragement to discipline one’s body in order to pursue better health. Similar ideologies of free choice in the face of bodily habits run through discussions of health and beauty. The paper uses the work of Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir as well as the contemporary feminist phenomenologists Diaprose, Bartky, Bordo, Young, Grosz, and Carel to explore how women are constrained by health testing and health normalization. It argues that despite the apparent benefits of a focus on modifying health habits, feminists have good reason to be wary of the good health imperative.



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Talia Welsh
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

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