Faculty Research at Morehead State University


Fat Liberation in the First World: Lucille Clifton and the New Body

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In their 1999 study titled Women’s Bodies: Disciplines and Transgressions, Jane Arthurs and Jean Grimshaw discuss the centrality of body to nineteenth- and twentieth-century theory and discourse, from Darwin to Foucault. One can safely say that this obsession with the body goes back further than Darwin. We need only think of the deep-rooted notions surrounding the Jewish race: sprouting in the Middle Ages, coming to a bloom with the science of craniology in the mid nineteenth century, and taking on monstrous proportions a century later, the belief that Jews were a biologically distinct race with specifically shaped skulls produced images of “hooked noses, twitching eyelids, clenched teeth, protruding ears, square fingernails, flat feet, and round knees” (Corcos 26). Myths surrounding the African body, too, have thrived for centuries. Aphra Behn’s great surprise at finding in Oroonoko a black man so “admirably turn’d from Head to Foot” and her catalog of praise for his Roman nose, thin lips, and straight hair does more to lay bare the pernicious racial stereotypes of her day than to question their validity (43). Thomas Jefferson’s notorious, degrading reflections on the characteristics and inferiority of the African physique, detailed in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), is further evidence of our culture’s investment in the body and, specifically, in constructing and then devaluing bodies that are other.