Are we 'fat-phobic'? New book says yes

18 October 2012

'Fat' by Deborah Lupton
'Fat' by Deborah Lupton.

On television they are often represented as headless torsos plodding about the screen, or worse, in shows such as The Biggest Loser, fat people are humiliated and endure punishing diet and exercise routines. The unspoken theme is that they are unloved and sad, and deserve both our pity and contempt.

A new book by University of Sydney researcher Deborah Lupton explores why the 'fat body' has become so reviled and, in extreme cases, viewed as diseased.

"Whether or not we identify as 'fat', it is difficult to escape the prevalence and dominance of anti-obesity discourse and fat phobia", says Lupton, an Honorary Associate in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy.

Fat (Routledge, 2012) explores the stigmatisation of body fat and surveys the burgeoning field of fat activism, also known as the fat-acceptance movement.

"Interest in fat studies is such that there is now a new journal called Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society and regular conferences devoted to this topic," says Professor Lupton.

"Taking its name from other critical areas of interdisciplinary study such as gender, queer, black and postcolonial studies, those who designate themselves as part of this field prefer the terms 'fat' or 'fatness' to what they view as the medicalised terms 'overweight', 'obese' or 'obesity'," says Professor Lupton.

Despite the fact that in many Western countries fat bodies outnumber those that are thin, fat people are still treated with derision and even repulsion.

Medical and public health experts insist that an obesity epidemic exists and that fatness is a pathological condition that should be prevented and controlled.

While the fat body has long been associated with ill health in medicine, the last two decades has seen unprecedented intensification of expert focus on the negative health and economic effects of obesity.

Yet writers from the social sciences and humanities have contended that anti-obesity campaigns and medical advice have contributed to fat shaming and that too much emphasis has been placed on body weight as a marker of health rather than physical fitness and lifestyle.

Fat is the first book to provide an overview of the different perspectives about fat bodies including moral meanings, and offers a readable critique of obesity science and the ways in which fat people are stigmatised in Western societies.

Deborah Lupton has published 12 books and over 100 journal articles and book chapters on the topics of the social and cultural aspects of medicine and public health; risk; embodiment; HIV/AIDS; fear of crime; parenting cultures; infancy and childhood; the emotions; food; critical weight studies; and digital sociology.

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