BSP Podcast: Penelope Lusk on Shame & the #MedBikini Twitter Movement

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Penelope Lusk presenting a paper from our 2022 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology II’.

Season 6 episode 149: 3 June 2024

Season 6 continues with another presentation from our 2022 annual conference, Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Spatiality. This episode features a presentation from Penelope Lusk, University of Pennsylvania.

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Penelope Lusk
‘“It said the quiet part out loud”: Reshaping Shame in the #MedBikini Twitter Movement’

Becoming-a-physician through medical education is a process often mediated by shame (Bynum); that shame is not always as explicit or discriminatory as in July 2020, when the Journal of Vascular Surgery published an article classifying surgery trainee social media posts as either ‘professional’ or ‘unprofessional.’ Considered unprofessional: controversial social or political comments, and “inappropriate” attire including bikinis and swimwear. The article was interpreted as explicit shaming of gendered bodies within the profession and met backlash in the form of a Twitter campaign in which healthcare workers posted their bikini pictures with the hashtag #MedBikini. Here, I analyse Twitter discourse and popular coverage of #MedBikini as a surface reworking of the affective economy in medical training and suggest potential phenomenological implications of this shift (Ahmed). The Vascular Surgery article made the nature of medical professional discipline visible, as it utilized surveillance and classification to manifest power and encourage normalization—and attempted to circulate shame among trainees. However, participants in #MedBikini re-signified bikinis (and their gendered and racialized bodies) as not-shameful, but valuable and resistant to dominant norms. Simultaneously, the #MedBikini movement highlights how racialized attire (hijab) and racialized bodies continue to be attached to negative feelings in the profession, complicating the potential meaning of the response as a social movement. Phenomenologically, the signification of bodies has potential impact on the experience of being- or becoming-a-physician. The revaluing of bodies within medical training reassigns group notions of shame and pride, reflecting Sedgwick’s notion of shame as a mobile and identity-producing emotion. The reshaping of the affective economy at the discursive level highlights the potential role of ‘affective activism’ in forming the power dynamics of medical training and the profession. That potential can be fulfilled when discourse translates into political and institutional responses which manifest change in the embodied experience of medical training.

Biography: Penelope Lusk is a doctoral student in Education, Culture, and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. She was a 2020-2021 Fulbright student fellow at the University of Exeter, UK. Her research interests are focused on healthcare and professional education, affect theory, critical theory and philosophy.

Further Information:

This recording is taken from our Annual UK Conference 2022: Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Sociality (Exeter, UK / Hybrid) with the University of Exeter. Sponsored by the Wellcome Centre, Egenis, and the Shame and Medicine project. For the conference our speakers either presented in person at Exeter or remotely to people online and in-room, and the podcast episodes are recorded from the live broadcast feeds.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?