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Communication and Medicine

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The fashioned survivor: Institutionalized representations of women with breast cancer

Ozum Ucok
Published Online: 2007-08-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CAM.2007.008


This paper explores some institutionalized visual representations of women with breast cancer and examines the rhetoric of the images in the American Cancer Society product catalogue (2000) and the Look Good … Feel Better pamphlet. I show that these cultural discourses promote notions of appearance that are ‘acceptable’, ‘desirable’, and ‘beautiful’ even when a person is sick. Suggestions and models offered for women when there is a ‘problem’ with their bodies through the frame of ‘helping’ them to cope with the effects of cancer—by managing their appearance—provide models for renewed femininity during/after cancer treatment and function to maintain the existing definitions of beauty, femininity, and gendered appearances even in times of crisis. With an emphasis on the ‘normalization’ of one's changed ‘problematic’ appearance, the images function to narrow down women's meanings and choices about their bodies and the ways in which they can manage their bodily appearance. Furthermore, this paper points to possible alternative discourses for further exploration. This study aims to enrich our understandings of cultural meanings of illness by making visual materials a significant part of our research.

Keywords: visual rhetoric; representing illness; breast cancer; visual representation; gendered appearance; bodily appearance

About the article

Ozum Ucok

Inci Ozum Ucok is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication, Rhetoric and Performance Studies, Hofstra University. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Her research areas include language and social interaction, ethnography of communication, and visual communication. She is particularly interested in studying the relation of the body and self, and the changes in one's experience and concept of self with respect to the changes in one's body. Her recent work includes the transformations of self in surviving breast cancer in relation to changes in bodily appearance. Currently she is working on the discourse and practice of mindfulness in facilitating healing and restoring ‘wholeness’. Dr. Ucok published papers on how people interactively make sense of paintings, aesthetic consequences of cancer treatment, and meaning of bodily appearance in surviving breast cancer.

*Address for correspondence: Room 414, New Academic Building, 160 Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY 11549, USA.

Published Online: 2007-08-22

Published in Print: 2007-05-29

Citation Information: Communication, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 67–78, ISSN (Online) 1613-4087, ISSN (Print) 0341-2059, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CAM.2007.008.

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