Under Surveillance: Public Fat Shaming from the Victorians to the Digital Age



The fat body has always been subjected to the gaze that positions it as othered and judged. This paper will seek to explore the history of public monitoring of the fat body. It will initially discuss how the fat body was treated within the Victorian novel by frequently subscribing it to deviant or comedic characters for example. This was then reinforced in the periodicals, through the written word and with visual reinforcement such as is seen in the Punch cartoons


Recently there has been a growth in academic interest in the fat body with the newly emerging Fat Studies field of scholarship, so fat-shaming is now under more scrutiny. The word fat and the freedom to eat as one chooses is now being reclaimed by fat positive movements such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. However, at the same time with the emergence of new technologies it has allowed fat shaming to be intensified, as television and the creation of the internet have created new mediums through which to survey and critique and police bodily forms that do not conform. Taking a Foucauldian approach this paper will explore such internet phenomena as the Facebook group Women Who Eat on Tubes which involves the public sending in photographs of women who eat on public transport which often results in the images being mocked. This overtly self-policing public approach will be discussed in great depth alongside the more general and possibly more top-down policing of the body through magazines such as Closer and the television shows Secret Eaters and Supersize vs Superskinny amongst others.


The language and presentation of the fat body through these various mediums will be analysed and compared in order to illuminate any broad shifts and changes in perception and presentation over the time period discussed. It will take as its focus the element of display, whether this is by choice or through the more covert means that is often involved in public fat shaming.

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