The fat black woman's unruly political body

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Sandra Pouchet Paquet - Committee Chair


Despite the West's privileging of slenderness as an aesthetic ideal, the African Diaspora has historically displayed a resistance to the Western European and North American indulgence in "fat anxiety." This resistance features a clear opposition to the notion that slenderness and health are equivalent. This study explores the ways in which the African Diaspora has rejected the West's efforts to impose imperatives of slenderness and to mass-market fat anxiety. It also explores the origins and contradictions of this phenomenon, especially the cultural deviations in beauty criteria and the related social and cultural practices. The findings of this project suggest that in the contemporary African Diaspora, the fat black woman's body occupies a largely resistive and transgressive space, despite the fact and because of the fact that some of the earlier images and literary representations of that body, shaped mostly by white hegemonic culture, was part of an effort to diminish black womanhood.Chapter one engages the notion of identity and illuminates the role of the fat black woman's body in the shaping of identity. This chapter also interrogates tensions between varying cultural notions of beauty and explores the complex nature of the historical relationship between black and white women. The second chapter examines the fat black woman's hypersexualization, which is doubly signified by both her size and race and constructed as a form of sexual deviance. The third chapter charts the iconographic link between the bodies of large black women and notions of economic abundance and is partially grounded in popular cultural expressions of fat black femininity. The final chapter engages the performing bodies of large black women, mainly on the North American concert stage, and explores the question of how so many fat black women have managed to achieve phenomenal success in the musical entertainment industry in a culture where they are marginalized because of both their size and race.


Black Studies; Literature, Caribbean; Women's Studies; Literature, English; Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

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