Capacious 2018

Title: “Beyond Recognition”: Moving Bodies and Subjects through Female Fitness Transformations Online

Abstract: Across social media platforms, there is a growing phenomenon around the idea of a “fitness transformation”—an increasingly popular type of content production for women to narrate and display their own transformation through fitness. What emerges are narratives speak to the pursuit of strength of body and mind, and transformation as a path to redefine and re-conceptualize the self. Following Kelly Oliver’s understanding of the production of subjectivities through witnessing, I explore how these fitness transformation narratives that circulate on social media platforms have enabled women to “bear witness” to new kinds of transformations—ones that seek to resist dominant paradigms of female bodies. Social media platforms have been situated both as potential spaces for free, democratic expression as well as repressive structures of neoliberal domination. I argue that by rendering these transformations visible, social networks provide the ability to witness these experiences of transformation and respond to them, producing new “subjective mutations.” This work pushes up against previous studies of the circulation of female bodies on social media that have centered on the ways these platforms commodify and discipline bodies. Instead, I discuss how the framework of “witnessing” allows for a more ethical and empathetic understanding of these narratives and those who produce them as “beyond recognition”—it allows us to engage with that which we might not fully recognize, opens up the possibility of escape, and enables us to approach the capacity of these transformations to move bodies and minds.

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