Bernadette received her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Vienna University in 1998 with a dissertation on the representation of AIDS in the media and the Act Up movement. She studied semiotics at the Università degli studi di Bologna under Umberto Eco, and medical anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. As a post-doc in 1999 she moved to the United States to study comparative literature and film at Stanford University, and has been living in the United States ever since.

She is currently a Professor of Media Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, where she also directs the Center for Advanced Media Studies. The author of the monographs Getting Under the Skin: Body and Media Theory (MIT Press, 2006), The Cosmetic Gaze: Body Modification and the Construction of Beauty, (MIT Press, 2012), the editor of Reality Made Over: The Culture of Reality Television Makeover Shows (2008) and the web book Living Books About Life: Cosmetic Surgery (2011), she published numerous influential articles on body criticism and media culture: Machinic Suture: Technologies of Beautification (2013), Seeing, Believing, Suffering: the Body as Medium in Religion and Contemporary Media Practice (2014), The Good and the Bad Breast: Cosmetic Surgery and Breast Cancer  (2015), and The Self as Artwork in the Age of Digital Capital (2015).

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Bernadette produced and directed her first documentary Made Over in America about the television makeover show The Swan in 2008 (Icarusfilms)Her second film, See You Soon Again (The Cinema Guild, 2012), which she co-directed with the Austrian director and producer Lukas Stepanik  is a portrait of Viennese Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz in his efforts to pass on his story of survival to the Baltimore youth. The film was theatrically released in Europe in 2012, aired on national PBS, and on the Austrian and German television stations ORF and 3Sat.  She is currently in post-production with two feature documentaries: The Good Breast, a feature documentary that interweaves the intimate stories of four breast cancer patients with the history and mythology of the breast. The film brings together her expertise on the history of the body and makeover culture with her passion for the character-driven cinéma vérité genre; and the documentary in Italian and Sicilian language, Devoti tutti, which explores — in the spirit of the Italian New Realists — the little known breast Saint Agatha who was martyrized in 251 AD. The film is an immersion into the devotional culture and political tensions around the yearly celebration of Saint Agatha in Catania, Sicily.