The Fat Studies Reader

By Esther Rothblum; Sondra Solovay | Go to book overview

34
Controlling the Body
Media Representations, Body Size, and Self-Discipline

Dina Giovanelli and Stephen Ostertag

We've all been in social settings where we've felt compelled to look and act certain ways. We might pause to ask why we feel this need to present ourselves in specific ways. The concept of panopticism provides one answer to this question. Panopticism refers to surveillance and social control where people alter their behavior because they feel as if others are constantly observing and judging them. With panopticism, power saturates the self and invades every minutia of existence. Initially, the term “panopticon” referred to either crime or sexuality (Foucault, 1977, 1978). More recently, it has evolved to encompass the mass media (Bartky, 1988; Ewen, 1988). We argue that “panopticism” has become so pervasive in contemporary societies that the mass media now engage in the surveillance and control of women's bodies.

We treat television as panopticon and examine fat female depictions. We focus specifically on women because the media panopticon is infused with patriarchal beliefs, and therefore women learn to see and judge themselves through men's eyes and according to men's criteria (Mulvey, 1975; Walter, 1995). We ask these questions because we are concerned with television's panoptic power and its implications for women's self-control. With this chapter we offer a small contribution to this complex relationship.


Media Representations and the Cosmetic Panopticon

Self-discipline and control through time and space reflect subjectivities thoroughly infused with patriarchy, where women's bodies confer a status in a hierarchy not of their own making; this hierarchy requires constant body surveillance and maintenance, often taking form in self-disciplining practices. Such control requires docile bodies (Foucault, 1977) and cannot be maintained without the internalization of patriarchy, saturating the soul through unremitting surveillance. The media contribute to women's self-control and self-discipline by serving as a panopticon (Bartky, 1988; Ewen, 1988), specifically a cosmetic panopticon (Gauchet, 2006). As a cosmetic panopticon, the media induce a state of permanent surveillance and judgment around

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