The Sociological Aspect of Obesity
Much has been written to explain the medical aspect of obesity but little attention has been paid to understanding the sociological aspect of the epidemic. This research attempts to understand the sociological aspect of obesity by examining the socio-cultural, gender, and psycho-social effects and includes the different perceptions of the epidemic as well as what is deemed acceptable in the society we live in.
In the American culture, obesity is seen as a bodily abnormality and deviance that should be corrected. Obesity has indeed become one of the most stigmatizing bodily characteristics in our culture (Brink, 1994). In the Western culture, thinness does not just mean the size of the body, but it is associated with such qualities as being healthy, attractive and in control. In contrast, a fat body is viewed as a sign of poor health, inefficiency and lack of personal will (e.g. Kissling, 1991; Ogden, 1992; Cooper, 1998). Resent research has shown that the social stigma associated with obesity can have serious consequences for an obese individual via discrimination in central fields of life such as education, health care, and employment. In relation to gender, the stigma associated with been obese is not the same for men and women. Research has clearly shown that obesity is more stigmatizing for women and obese women are discriminated against more than men because of their weight (Puhl & Brownell, 2001).
The psychosocial aspect of obesity is often overlooked. The psychosocial issues associated with obesity are usually obvious and may often stem from discrimination (conscious and subconscious) against obese people. Researchers found that lowered self-esteem was associated with being overweight in girls as young as five (Millman, 1980). As a result of depression and low self-esteem, they look more and more towards food as a means of comfort.
Based on background information, a central hypothesis was developed that obesity is an ongoing, gendered and embodied cultural process that has harmful consequences for the obese individual (e.g. Harjunen, 2002&2003). The various social implications of obesity will be explored via interviews (with obese people or former obese people) conducted and the surveys taken of people in the Boston area.
The purpose of this paper is to study the social aspect of obesity and an individual's personal experience of being fat. I understand obesity as a socially and politically meaningful divergence that is analogous to other significant differences based on the body, for example: disability, gender, and ethnicity (ef. Cooper, 1997&1998; Young, 1990). In my research, I approach obesity as a discursive category that is created, produced and reproduced through various social practices, such as: medicine and health care system, school, religion, and the media (e.g. Foucault, 1979).
I claim that in American culture, a thin body is held as the...