The Sociology of Fat


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This presentation covers the various sociological perspectives that can be brought to bear to research and theorise fat, both as a dietary substance and as a type of body shape or element of the body.

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The Sociology of Fat

  1. 1. THE SOCIOLOGY OF FATDeborah Lupton, Department of Sociology andSocial Policy, University of Sydney
  2. 2. Model of human fat: „a shocking but stronglymotivating attention getter‟
  3. 3. Body fat as „thing‟ that must be „burnt off yourbody‟
  4. 4. Fat body vest: feel what it is like to be fat!
  5. 5. „Obesity is suicide‟: dietary fat as dynamite
  6. 6. Soft drink as fat
  7. 7. The „Measure Up‟ campaign: „Do you measureup?‟
  8. 8. Toxic fat, toxic bodies: the LiveLighter campaign
  9. 9. Fatty food turning into body fat
  10. 10. The headless fatty
  11. 11. The fat body as unsightly and repellent
  12. 12. Nigella Lawson: “I‟m a great believer in fat”
  13. 13. Dietary fat as gourmet delicacy
  14. 14. Fat activism
  15. 15. The Adipositivity Project
  16. 16. „Freedom from shame‟: Health At Every Sizemovement
  17. 17. Orthodox anti-obesity position• obesity is a disease and leads to other diseases such as diabetes,cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, and as a result,early death• fat bodies are pathological• there is an „obesity epidemic‟ that must be contained• fat bodies are an economic burden on society• fat people should therefore attempt to lose weight to conform tothe „normal‟ BMI
  18. 18. My study of number of obesity articles in the Sydney MorningHerald and the British Medical Journal, 1995--2011050100150200250300SMHBMJ
  19. 19. Academic challenges to the anti-obesity position• Fat studies• Critical obesity studies/critical weight studies• Drawing on sociology, anthropology, critical psychology, culturalgeography, literary studies, media and cultural studies, genderstudies, queer studies, critical disability studies
  20. 20. Political economic approach• fatness as linked to sociocultural disadvantage, obesogenicenvironment, consumerist culture• anti-obesity discourse and medical power• drug companies, diet product producers, bariatric surgeonsprofiting• fat discrimination issues• fat as a feminist issue
  21. 21. Obesity map of the USA: evidence of socialdeterminants of body weight
  22. 22. Sociocultural meanings of fat• textual analysis (of media representations, public healthcampaigns, medical journals, interview data etc)• historical perspectives• cross-cultural perspectives
  23. 23. Sociocultural meanings of fat as a dietarysubstance• once a luxury, sought-after foodstuff• now reviled in many contexts• represented as a health risk, toxic to the body: „fat makes you fat‟• portrayed as disgusting• some (expensive) fat privileged as part of gourmet cooking
  24. 24. Sociocultural meanings of body fat• fat bodies as ugly and repulsive• fat people as lacking self-discipline, lazy, ignorant• fat bodies encroaching into others‟ space• the fat body as grotesque• the fat body as diseased• fat bodies as inferior• body fat as toxic
  25. 25. Fat bodies/selves• fatness as spoilt identity/stigma: Goffman• phenomenology of fat embodiment: Merleau-Ponty• the civilized body: Elias• fat bodies as assemblages: socio-technical/Deleuzian perspective
  26. 26. Foucauldian perspectives• the government of fat bodies• biopolitics and biopower• practices of the self
  27. 27. Feminist philosophy• fluidities, femininities, leaky uncontained bodies: Grosz, Shildrick• the abject body: Kristeva
  28. 28. Queer theory: queering fatness• cultural construction of embodiment/identity• embodiment and identity as unstable and performative• the challenging of normativity
  29. 29. Fat activismfatactivismfeminismqueerpoliticsdisabilitypoliticsHealthAt EverySizefatstudies