Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Employing Polyethnography to Navigate Researcher Positionality on Weight Bias

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Employing Polyethnography to Navigate Researcher Positionality on Weight Bias

Article excerpt

Messages that stigmatize people according to their body weight are rampant in the media and society as a whole, often propagated in the messages given by family and friends (Jun & Lee, 2014; Oliver, 2006). Individuals are exposed to messages that potentially stigmatize people, based on their body weight, through public and professional sources. For example, women are targeted by social messages to feel dissatisfied with their bodies, at any weight, and to internalize a message that they should feel dissatisfied (Britton, Martz, Bazzini, Cutrin, & Lea Shomb, 2006; Ferguson, 2013; Salk & Engeln-Maddox, 2011). Increasingly, male bodies are also being objectified such that the lean muscular physique is associated with desirability, masculinity, and good physical health (Dakanalis & Riva, 2013). In health care, the weight-focused approach to defining health has contributed to the increasing frequency and intensity of weight bias (Latner & Stunkard, 2003), defined as negative weight-related attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and judgments toward individuals who are overweight and obese (Washington, 2011). The culminating impact of weight bias and stigmatization from multiple levels of society has been implicated for people experiencing increased anxiety, depression, disordered eating, avoidance of healthcare, decreased quality of life, and even suicide (Diaz-Melean & Somers, 2013; Puhl & Heuer, 2009). Despite the attention paid to weight bias in the professional literature for several decades, there continue to be pervasive negative effects for individuals who are bombarded with messages about weight.

Weight bias is, in part, a study of what might be considered deviance from social norms in the context of a Western culture that promotes the idea that bodies need to be controlled (Bordo, 2004). Research on weight bias has traditionally positioned weight diversity as an examination of the "other," focusing on the experiences of participants in research studies as totally separated from the experience of the researchers. However, given the social pervasiveness of weight bias, it is important for researchers to locate their personal experience with weight bias, including values and assumptions that may consciously or unconsciously influence their views of the topic and of the participants and their lived experience (Ponterotto, 2005). In our review of the literature, we have noticed the absence of content that addresses researchers' positionality, tending to position weight bias as a concept that is relevant for other people and not connected to personal or professional locations.

We formed an interdisciplinary research team to study the topic of weight bias from diverse locations and backgrounds. Specifically, our team came together to study the idea of weight bias as a social justice issue. After spending some time examining discourses, forms, and language on how weight is being talked in different professional fields, we became aware that what is often missing from the literature is that researchers do not explicitly discuss what is the relationship with their own body, or their own weight preferences or inclinations. As a result, we became interested in exploring our own ideas, prejudices, and views on weight and body appearance. The goal of this article is to share and example of our generative dialogues on weight bias using our own voices and experiences, in order to make transparent the typically hidden subjective positions and personal biographies that come together to guide and inform our research. In doing so, we intended to contribute to the literature on weigh bias research, the literature on positionality and reflexivity in qualitative research, and extend the literature on duoethnography through offering an example of reflectivity, using polyethnography for team-based interdisciplinary research.

Our team consists of four professors, one international postdoctoral scholar, and two graduate students from education (one master's and one doctoral) and represents subfields including counselling psychology, education, sociology, and health sciences. …

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