Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Susan Groenke

Committee Members

Susan Groenke, Stergios Botzakis, Amy Billone, Steven Bickmore, Kia J. Richmond


With campaigns like We Need Diverse Books (Mabbott, 2017), readers and authors of young adult literature (YAL) are calling for more diverse representations of adolescents and adolescence, such as in race, gender, sexuality, and ability, to name a few. However, size inclusivity is often left off this list. As a young adult, I was fat, and I never had characters who were productive representations to turn to. I did not see ‘me’ in the pages of the books I read. The purpose of this study was two-fold: (1) to explore my own relationship with YAL novels that center the fat experience, and (2) to critically examine how the life experiences of fat persons are portrayed in recently published YAL.

This dissertation is guided by two research questions:

  1. What was my experience reading Murphy’s (2015) Dumplin’ as an adult reader of YAL? What did the texts do for me as a fat reader?
  2. How do the protagonists/casts of characters resist the dominant negative cultural perception of fatness? How do her books act as an avenue for awareness and change?

Because this dissertation has two foci, it employs two qualitative methodologies: critical autoethnography and critical content analysis. Chapter Four presents a critical autoethnography that relies on Harro’s (2008a) Cycle of Socialization as a backdrop to discuss the construction of my fat identity, then situates Dumplin’ (Murphy, 2015) as the critical incident that allowed me to break free of the Cycle of Socialization and move into the Cycle of Liberation (Harro, 2008b). Chapter Five utilizes critical content analysis to determine how the protagonists challenge the cultural conception of fatness and how the novels act as an avenue for change. Findings suggest Murphy’s Dumplin’ (2015), Puddin’ (2018), Faith Taking Flight (2020), and Pumpkin (2021a) push back against the master narrative of fatness by challenging the fat quest (Shelton, 2016). In doing so, Murphy’s novels act as artifacts for fat activism. Chapter Six concludes by offering suggestions for implementing fat pedagogy into the secondary English classroom.

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