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The pregnant and postpartum body as constructed in People magazine, 2000-2007: a content analysis




Martindale, Addie, author
Ogle, Jennifer, advisor
Leigh, Katharine, committee member
Rouner, Donna, committee member

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Within the United States, there has been a growing popular cultural interest in pregnant and postpartum bodies, especially those of celebrity women. Despite this growing popular cultural interest and the acknowledgement that body-related media messages may shape women's feelings about and behaviors towards their bodies, very little research has explored media messages related to the pregnant and postpartum bodies. Thus, the purpose of this interpretive work was to examine the written editorial content of People magazine issues published during the years 2000 through 2007 (inclusive) for meaning related to the pregnant and postpartum bodies. Analyses were informed by varied sociological and feminist perspectives on the female body as well as by symbolic convergence theory, which suggests that rhetorical discourses such as media texts contain repeated stories or themes - or "rhetorical visions" - that converge to inform individuals' beliefs about social reality (Bormann, 1981). The study invoked a qualitative content analysis approach to analyze the data. Of the 416 issues of People magazine included in the initial sample, 142 were identified as comprising content focused upon the pregnant and/or postpartum body, including 98 full length articles and 106 feature articles. Constant comparison processes were used to identify and interpret key concepts and themes within the text. This study's aim was to answer to three original research questions proposed. The first research question asked how pregnant and postpartum bodies were framed within People magazine and analyzed the varied meanings attached to these embodied statuses. Findings indicated that pregnant and postpartum bodies were in framed in diverse ways, including as physically attractive, as stylish, and/or as miraculous/amazing. It also was revealed that the pregnant and postpartum bodies were presented by People contributors as objects in need of bodily control and were framed as "spectacles" to be viewed, surveyed, or scrutinized by readers. The second research question asked what body-related attitudes and behaviors were presented as normative or desirable for pregnant and postpartum women and how these meanings were constructed within People. Findings indicated that pregnant and postpartum bodies were frequently framed as needing to be controlled through varied behaviors. The need to invoke control through body-related behaviors was presented in relation to achieving pregnancy (e.g., in instances of infertility), birthing the child, and undertaking diet and exercise projects during pregnancy and postpartum. Lastly, the third research question considered whether existing theoretical work be invoked to interpret the rhetorical visions identified within People magazine and related to the pregnant and postpartum bodies. Theory related to mind/body dualism and surveillance as well as the generalized tenets of symbolic convergence theory -- such as the notion that rhetorical visions reflect dominant cultural values -- proved useful in understanding the rhetorical visions that emerged. Additionally, findings suggested the relevance of theory related to spectacle, which was useful in interpreting People's treatment of the pregnant body as an object or a spectacle.


2012 Summer.
Includes bibliographical references.

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