In this ethnographic study of plus-size fashion models in New York City, I build on previous research that has only examined the staged performance of fat and, instead, focus attention on the “backstage” aesthetic labor process.
Using participant observations and interviews, I document an intensive aesthetic labor process, whereby these models continually developed their bodies according to the demands of their fashion employers.
Their actions, as part of an aesthetic labor process involving affective, emotional, and physical labor, only served to reify normative imperatives involving female bodies. As aesthetic laborers subject to fashion’s gaze, they engaged in a range of bodily disciplines that relied on thin aesthetics. Consequently, their bodies became both subjects and objects, managed through self-surveillance and corporal discipline.
I draw on these findings to highlight a nuanced aesthetic labor process that, rather than challenging discursive constructions of fatness to create a new “fat aesthetic,” reproduced normative imperatives involving female bodies that further perpetuated their sense of disembodiment.
Reprinted in Inside Social Life: Readings in Sociological Psychology and Microsociology, 7th edition, 2014, edited by Spencer E. Cahill, Kent Sandstrom, and Carissa Froyum, Oxford University Press