Mapping 'Gross' Bodies: The Regulatory Politics of Disgust

Breanne Fahs


Sara Ahmed said, ‘Emotions should not be regarded as psychological states, but as social and cultural practices’ (2004, 9). Critical feminist scholarship on embodiment and women’s lived experiences of their bodies has resituated and reframed the way that social scientists understand the discipline, control, and regulation of bodies (Foucault 1995). As a malleable site of cultural anxieties (Bordo 2003), personal distress and self-objectification (Johnston-Robledo et al. 2007), pleasure and satisfaction (Fahs 2011b), cultural rebellion (Bobel and Kwan 2011), frank oppression (Owen 2012), or affiliation to various social identities (Hill Collins 2000), the body and its role as a social entity cannot be overstated. More specifically, psychologists, body image researchers, and critical feminist scholars have argued that women mould and shape their

B. Fahs(*)

Arizona State University, Glendale, AZ, USA © The Author(s) 2017

A.S. Elias et al. (eds.), Aesthetic Labour,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-47765-1_4

bodies to emulate ‘ideals’ of youth, heterosexuality, ability, whiteness, and thinness (Bordo 2003; Ringrose and Walkerdine 2008; Tiggemann and Lewis 2004).

While most work focuses on cognitions or social interactions, less work has examined the affective and emotional components of bodily labour, that is, the way that emotions like disgust and dread may serve as regulatory devices for women to think about, and ‘contain’, their unruly bodies. Note that bodily labour also involves aspects of ‘deep acting’, where individuals modify their inner feelings, while aesthetic labour can sometimes involve either ‘shallow acting’, modifying expressions or performances of the self, or ‘deep acting’ (see Grandey 2003). While disgust as an emotion has appeared in some psychological literatures, most often framed as a device of moral regulation (Bjorklund and Hursti 2004; Inbar et al. 2012) and attitudes toward sexual minorities (Herek 1988), feminist theorists have not typically used disgust to examine the visceral qualities of body shame, dissatisfaction, and self-regulation among women. As such, this chapter draws from interviews from a diverse community sample of 20 women to examine how women use the emotion of disgust to police and regulate their own, and other women’s, bodies. Specifically, I examine fatness, body hair and pubic hair, and menstrual sex as key sites to map ‘gross’ bodies in order to explore the outcomes and implications of women’s self-regulation around body norms and practices.

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