Fat as a Feminist Issue: Activism and Agency in the Body Positive Movement

PhD Thesis

Merton, S. (2022). Fat as a Feminist Issue: Activism and Agency in the Body Positive Movement . PhD Thesis London South Bank University School of Law and Social Science https://doi.org/10.18744/lsbu.9285w
AuthorsMerton, S.
TypePhD Thesis

This thesis examines the way hashtag networks impact the expression of contemporary activism and agency, focusing on the #BodyPositive movement (BPM). It investigates the new possibilities for fat identity formation introduced by the Instagram imaging platform.
My study historically contextualises the fat female body within Western culture to enable appreciation of the systemic discrimination and policing imposed within a patriarchal society. This retrospective applies an intersectional approach, with particular emphasis on the structural inequalities encountered by black women of colour (BWOC) along the axes of weight, gender and racial identity.The research is based on responses from over five hundred online survey participants. The survey provided an opportunity to critically interrogate Instagrammers about their protest habits and any underlying feminist motivations. Participant observation fieldwork was also undertaken at three offline body positive events. These descriptive accounts advance current debates querying the political inclinations of those engaged in so-called ‘slacktivism.’
Qualitative research is used to challenge traditional conceptualisations of activism and assert the integral role the body occupies in claims-making. A feminist lens is deployed to investigate how hashtaggers use Instagram’s photographic processes to re-represent the fat female body for protest
purposes. Analysis is further supported by the application of social movement theory (SMT) to determine whether social media activity can be classified as social movement activity.Feminist debate is taken in a new direction through recognising the camera as a significant campaign instrument and not merely a source of objectification. Content creators are understood as agentic subjects reclaiming their fatness from conventionally derogative discourses.
Research found body exhibitionism can be experienced as empowering by fat women occupying femininities associated with stigma and shame. However, it makes an important contribution to feminist scholarship in highlighting the drawbacks to digital activism, such as algorithmic bias, which diminishes the visibility of already marginalised groups.

PublisherLondon South Bank University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.18744/lsbu.9285w
File Access Level
Publication dates
Print06 May 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited14 Nov 2022
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