Date of Award

8-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Matthew A. Vetter

Second Advisor

Dana Lynn Driscoll

Third Advisor

Bryna Siegel Finer

Abstract

This dissertation rhetorically explores and analyzes the construction and representation of the PCOS body in digital and mass media and how the mass media impacts public responses about the PCOS body. This project also explores and explicates the rhetorical strategies that women with PCOS employ when participating in an online health community. Representations of the media for this study include a television episode, an online popular culture forum, and an online health forum. Rhetorical and qualitative methods, including observation, random sampling, and descriptive coding, yield evidence for the following insights about the three media representations. First, to grow viewership and to increase media profits, The Learning Channel (TLC), as representative of mass media, operates to both enforce and to offer alternatives for the hairlessness norm. In the process, TLC both exploits the PCOS body and makes room for alternative ways of being on Strange Love. Second, users writing seed posts and performing identification within the People.com forum, as representative of a popular forum linked to the TLC network, urge Annalisa to assimilate with the hairlessness norm. These users utilize discourse to strengthen the norm. However, users responding to seed posts and performing disidentification within the People.com forum urge Annalisa to abstain from hair removal practices. These users utilize embodied discourse to enact a collective resistance to the hairlessness norm and to reshape ideals about women’s PCOS epistemologies and ontologies. Finally, as a form of participatory new media, myPCOSteam acts as a feminist digital space that values complex embodied experiences, identification, and action-based health recommendations from and for the PCOS community. In short, myPCOSteam functions as an online grassroots forum for PCOS health advocacy and PCOS patient empowerment. Ultimately, findings from this study suggest that while women with PCOS have limited agency in constructing and representing their identities and ontologies in traditional media, by networking in participatory new media, these women can reclaim their agency. This dissertation contributes to ongoing conversations of femininity, women’s health challenges, and advocacy, as located in medical rhetoric scholarship.

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