Framing Fat: Competing Constructions in Contemporary Culture

Framing Fat: Competing Constructions in Contemporary Culture

Framing Fat: Competing Constructions in Contemporary Culture

Framing Fat: Competing Constructions in Contemporary Culture


According to public health officials, obesity poses significant health risks and has become a modern-day epidemic. A closer look at this so-called epidemic, however, suggests that there are multiple perspectives on the fat body, not all of which view obesity as a health hazard.

Alongside public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are advertisers of the fashion-beauty complex, food industry advocates at the Center for Consumer Freedom, and activists at the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

Framing Fat
takes a bird's-eye view of how these multiple actors construct the fat body by identifying the messages these groups put forth, particularly where issues of beauty, health, choice and responsibility, and social justice are concerned. Samantha Kwan and Jennifer Graves examine how laypersons respond to these conflicting messages and illustrate the gendered, raced, and classed implications within them. In doing so, they shed light on how dominant ideas about body fat have led to the moral indictment of body nonconformists, essentially "framing" them for their fat bodies.


June 22, 2011: ABC News (Carollo and Salahi 2011) reports on research findings out of the Harvard School of Public Health. To understand the relationship between lifestyle and weight, investigators examined three separate studies spanning a twenty-year period that included over 120,000 subjects. They found that weight gain was associated with several foods; at the top of the list of nutritional culprits were potato chips, processed meats, and sugarsweetened drinks.

August 10, 2010: a Medical News Today (George 2010) headline reads, “Research Shows Sugary Drinks Do Not Cause Weight Gain.” the article reports on a study published in the journal Appetite that monitored the eating, drinking, and exercise habits of fifty-three overweight women. Subjects were placed in one of two groups and blindly given either a sugar-sweetened or an artificially sweetened drink to consume during the study period. Weigh-ins at the end of the four-week study period found no differences in weight gain among the two groups. the study’s primary investigator concludes, “Sugar in moderation plays a neutral role in the balanced diet, but an emotionally charged role in the psychology of food choice.”

So by some accounts, sugar-sweetened drinks contribute to weight gain. By others, sugar-sweetened drinks do not. Examples of contradictory claims about weight and the fat body abound. Here are two more.

December 1, 2010: the Associated Press (Nano 2010) reports that a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving approximately 1.5 million people found that adults who were overweight were 13 percent more likely to die during the study period compared to adults in the ideal weight range. the Associated Press quotes a senior author of the study: “Having a little meat on your bones—if that meat happens to be fat—is harmful, not beneficial.”

February 2, 2010: the news agency Reuters (Joelving 2010) reports on an Australian study’s claim that being overweight can increase longevity. Published . . .

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