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Document Type

English - Student Presentation

Publication Date

Spring 2-23-2017




In this dissertation, I argue that autobiographical narratives of body size function as lifestyle guides based on an interpretation of obesity as an undesirable bodily condition. These narratives are anchored by the “weight loss success story” narrative trope, which represents the result of extreme weight loss processes synthesized as “Before and After.” This dissertation serves the dual purpose of historicizing weight loss autobiography in the United States from the late 19th century to present, and arguing that these texts have been taken up as instructional guides for living, or biopedagogical tools. After outlining my methodology in the first chapter, the next chapter looks at an early freak show pamphlet of a “giant” act to suggest that the contemporary weight loss memoir is derived from this manipulation of autobiographical forms to exploit bodily difference. In the second chapter, I move to the mid-20th century, when members of commercial weight loss programs began writing their own weight loss autobiography as a mandate of the program. I use my own autobiography as a member of Weight Watchers to show how the program teaches food journaling techniques. Next, I explore how body-based memoir can resist the imperative of weight loss in narratives of body size. In the last chapter, I show how teaching disability life writing in an undergraduate classroom can disrupt normative expectations of participation. I conclude by arguing that narratives that support the validity of one body size/shape/configuration over another, like weight loss memoir or the overcoming narrative of disability memoir, authorize harmful practices of exclusion that impact how individuals are allowed to participate in public life. Therefore, including weight loss memoir and disability memoir as representing Othered embodiment under the broad category of what I call body-based autobiography can teach a new model of how to write a life.