The body as a site of struggle: oppositional discourses of the disciplined female body

Kiran Pienaar, Ian Bekker

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This article presents the results of a study on the discursive construction of one aspect of gender identity, namely the female physical ideal. It reports on an analysis of the discourses of the disciplined female body, as these are drawn upon in two conversations between a group of young, Western female university students. The conversations were elicited in August 2005 using a stimulus exercise designed to encourage discussion on issues relating to female body image, such as the notion of the ideal female body, dieting and plastic surgery. Using the tools of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 2001) the article analyses four related discourses, namely the pro-diet discourse, the discourse of the healthy body, the discourse of studied indifference and the discourse of the sexually attractive female body, in terms of how these discourses encode different, sometimes contradictory ideologies of the Western female body ideal. The article concludes that the discourse of the sexually attractive female body emerges as dominant in these conversational extracts and that, by colonising the other discourses, it legitimates its ethic of compulsory heterosexuality, which positions women as erotic objects of the male gaze.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-555
Number of pages17
JournalSouthern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes

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