Toronto Metropolitan University
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Starving for Justice: Teen Action Heroines and the Logic of Anorexia

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posted on 2021-05-22, 14:08 authored by Emma Dunn

Marshalling evidence from critical feminist studies of eating disorders (Bordo; Malson and Burns; Warin), including Leslie Heywood’s concept of anorexic “logic,” this dissertation theorizes how anorexic rationality and subjectivity are expressed through the popular figure of the post-feminist action heroine, specifically within young adult (YA) speculative fiction franchises. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels (2005-2008), Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series (2008-2010), and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (2011-2013) serve as the primary, and I argue ideal case studies for this investigation. Emerging as top-selling YA series in the post-Harry Potter era, all three franchises feature teen girl protagonists with post-feminist “sensibility” (Gill), and with their mass appeal, have given rise to global fandoms. Hence, this project also examines reader responses to the series under discussion through a selection of online fan fiction in which female-identifying youth rewrite their protagonists as anorexic. Although media studies scholars have analyzed the gendered discourses surrounding contemporary female action heroes (Inness; Brown; Wright), and feminist literary scholars have explored how motifs of weight, starvation and consumption function within certain narratives (Daniel; Ellmann; Karlin; Meuret; Silver), the correlation between anorexia and action heroine texts has yet to be systematically studied. This investigation is all the more crucial given Parliament of Canada’s 2014 report, Eating Disorders Among Girls and Women in Canada, which notes that eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses. Responding to the report’s call for increased research on media messaging aimed at youth, this dissertation focuses on mass media franchises targeted at girls and young women, the largest demographic of eating disorder sufferers, arguing that contemporary teen action heroine mythology reflects and reifies a problematic value system that mutually constitutes conceptions of starvation and justice, and informs the social construction of ideal femininity. This research thus forges new pathways between theories of girlhood, body image studies, and YA literature to offer a theoretical framework for reading female heroism that places the corporeal matrix of gender, consumption, and embodiment at its centre.





  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • Dissertation

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    Communication and Culture (Theses)


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