Locating aesthetics: Sexing the fat woman

Samantha Murray*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


In the West, the fat woman is most often relegated to the asexual category of the "big girl". The soft dimpled curves of her thighs, the fleshy rolls of her stomach, the alarming swell of her breasts, all seem a parody of female sexuality, a distortion of contemporary paradigms of feminine beauty and desirability. The fat woman's corporeal experience is constituted largely by the expectation of a constant disavowal of her flesh, an enforced disconnection from her body and a refusal of herself as a sexual. being. The fat female body in Western societies stands as a symbol of a body that is uncared for, uncultivated and, indeed, as a body that has failed as the subject of aesthetics. In The Use of Pleasure, Foucault suggests "we have to create ourselves as a work of art", and advocates living a "beautiful life" by engaging with practices that seek to produce a cultivated self. In this paper I wish to examine Foucault's notion of an "aesthetics of existence", and the implicit bodily transformation that is effected through his "practices of the self. In light of this, I seek to interrogate the problem of aesthetics in Foucauldian ethics, and the prescriptive modes of becoming that aesthetic ideals inevitably produce. Does making our lives a work of art" enable a means of overturning dominant discourses around the fat body that relate to the perceived neglect of bodily maintenance and failure of the will by thinking through new ways of living the fat body, or does an "aesthetics of existence" reinforces these discourses, by insisting upon sets of practices that disallow the fat self from ever coming into being as it is. Can we choose the level of investment we have in aesthetic ideals, and do Foucault's aesthetics for a "beautiful life" irrevocably discipline the fat body, deprive it of its sexuality, and seek to overcome its very flesh in order to transform it into a socially sanctioned work of art?.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-247
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004


  • Aesthetics
  • Fatness
  • Foucault
  • Sexuality


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