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Shaping embodiment in The Swan: fan and blog discourses in makeover culture

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation explores the ubiquity of North American makeover culture from a feminist cultural studies perspective. Using an interdisciplinary and multi-methods approach, I conduct discourse analysis of Fox network’s The Swan (Galan 2004), online audience research of web forums devoted to The Swan, and email interviews with a small group of bloggers who wrote about their cosmetic surgery experiences on the web portal, A postfeminist, neoliberal discourse of choice utilized in makeover culture belies the continued social and discursive regulation of embodiment, directed primarily at women. This re-regulation of embodiment contains the ontological threat of bodily hybridity made visible in makeover culture. In other words, the potential threat of the surgically altered body to expose the instability of bodily integrity is contained through makeover culture discourse that positions women as passive subjects while simultaneously addressing them as active agents. I use a somatechnics rubric, a poststructuralist approach developed by scholars meeting bi-annually since 2003 at Australia’s Macquarie University, to interpret the hybridity I identify in makeover culture. Somatechnics scholars foreground the inseparability of the soma (body) and techné (technologies/techniques). My dissertation develops from the theoretical starting point that bodies are never pure, pre-cultural entities. Rather, bodies become meaningful through their relationship with technologies of daily practice. I add to somatechnics scholarship by concentrating on the nuances of makeover culture techniques afforded the most credibility. Current academic work on makeover culture tends to make generalized assumptions about its participants. By adopting a somatechnic approach, I move beyond well-worn arguments determining agency or coercion of makeover culture subjects. Instead, I concentrate on ambiguities between the natural/constructed or authentic/inauthentic dichotomies in makeover culture discourse. The result is a project that destabilizes moralistic judgements about elective cosmetic body modification and its participants, and refocuses attention to the production of acceptable bodies in popular texts and mediated personal narratives. This project makes an important contribution to ongoing feminist investigations of normalized body modification practices, and advances the study of makeover culture by relocating the site of analysis to the repetitive form(ul)ation of embodied subjectivity within its symbolic borders.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Leung, Helen Hok-Sze
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