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Body Talk: Fat is out, Fit is in
AuthorMartinez, Elizabeth M.
AdvisorStewart, Mary W.
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Many scholars have addressed the irreconcilable relationship between women and their bodies. The purpose of this study is to investigate the ways women come to understand their bodies, and to account for one’s social location in this construction of the body. Many studies that have focused on social class and women’s bodies, lack a dimension on race. Those that have focused on race and women’s bodies, lack any attention to social class. In many cases, the study of women’s bodies in terms of race compares Black women to White women. This perpetuates the view that White women are the standard to which all other women are judged. Allen (1998) explained the importance of hearing the voices of women of color without being in reference to White women’s voices, “When we privilege the knowledge of the oppressed or outsiders, we reveal aspects of the social order that previously have not been exposed” (Allen, 1998, p. 577). Without analysis of class, we can assume then that this also reflects a White middle-class standard. In order to address the role of race and class in shaping the social construction of women’s bodies and to explain variation in body satisfaction among women from various backgrounds, this study implemented both quantitative and qualitative research methods. A survey was used to collect information about social class, race, and overall body satisfaction. The quantitative analysis is supplemented in-depth semi-structured interviews to thresh out the experiences and interactions, the words and the symbols that have accompanied the process of constructing the body. The results of the survey demonstrate the importance of feedback from family in shaping women’s body satisfaction, and the overwhelming importance of mothers or mother-figures in women’s development. Yet, women who felt that their father or father-figure was important in their development also showed a significant relationship between feedback and body satisfaction, as well as the way they were able to recall that their father or father-figure spoke of other women’s bodies and their body satisfaction. Survey respondents indicated that the ideal body was “Athletic” or “Curvy.” Interview participants demonstrated a desire to “be fit.” Overall, the data suggest that the thin-ideal has become a thing of the past, but questions remain about the emergence of the new fit ideal. Is the goal to “be fit” different from the goal to be thin? Is the new fit ideal just an approved discourse for the same social practices? How does the new language for body disciplinary practices change the interpretation and impact body satisfaction? The emergence of an apparent fit ideal among women is an important transition in body discourse that should continue to be explored.