Eating Disorders and Children’s Literature: The Changing Representation of Body Image
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This dissertation examines how themes of body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders are embedded into children’s literature. It will critically examine how and why these representations have changed over time by looking at examples from the nineteenth century up until today. Analysing the development of children’s literature alongside historical and cultural influences will help determine why eating disorders are so prevalent in contemporary society. Close textual analysis is used throughout each chapter to highlight examples of body image dissatisfaction and notions of eating disorders within children’s literature. Chapter one focuses on the nineteenth century and how anorexic ideals are representative of Victorian culture. The theme of control that is crucial to a sufferer of anorexia is discovered within a variety of children’s literature examples during the nineteenth century. Analysing popular children’s texts reveals that anorexia was an incredibly apparent illness during the nineteenth century. Characters that are overweight are portrayed negatively, to deter children from gluttonous behaviour. Chapter two explores how major historical and cultural events shaped children’s literature throughout the twentieth century. The development of eating disorders such as bulimia and obesity become a prominent part of children’s literature, that no longer only represent society, but can influence it too. Towards the end of the twentieth century cases of eating disorders increase, and literature begins to be used as a medium for sufferers to find solace. Characters are rarely demonised for being obese and are instead sympathised with, as eating disorders are established as psychological illnesses. The final chapter examines how children’s literature is used to reflect the pandemic of body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders that are constantly reaffirmed by the media. The theme of control is reintroduced throughout this chapter, as obesity levels begin to soar. Throughout the dissertation, children’s literature is viewed as a source that not only embodies the beliefs of society, but can be used by authors to encourage children to adopt particular lifestyles. Eating disorders are revealed to be prevalent in all three centuries, but changing attitudes to body image are discovered in children’s literature from each century.
BA (Hons) English and Contemporary Media
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