So far in this book we have provided a critique of the ways in which obesity has been talked about in the mass-media, the scientific literature and other popular publications. In each case, we have seen how people take for granted the proposition that 'overweight and obesity' are definable, recognizable, universally understandable, measurable 'real' objects. We have described how the ideology of the 'obesity epidemic' has been constructed, and how its central arguments have been marshalled and disseminated by journalists, scientists and other commentators.
While many writers have argued that the 'obesity epidemic' should be attributed to the nature of contemporary society, few stop to think about how the concept itself has come to be understood. Rarely do these researchers and writers reflect on the consequences of the ways overweight and obesity are talked about. Instead, there often seems a moral righteousness, if not zeal, about the way obese and overweight individuals are pursued as unable to 'care for themselves' and thus in need of expert help. The evangelical metaphors here are intended: like evangelical missionaries, alternative ways of thinking are ignored and evidence that challenges strongly held positions is either ignored or attacked.
In Chapter 1, ideology was described as providing 'tools' for understanding the world. In using ideology in this way, we acknowledge that all our ways of making sense of the world, our beliefs and values are ideological. In this sense, if we are to challenge the 'obesity epidemic' as an ideological construction we need to demonstrate that there are other ways of thinking about health, the body and weight. If we want to challenge this ideology, it is also not sufficient to argue that it is powerful and pervasive as so are all dominant ideologies by definition. What we need to argue is that the focus on obesity and overweight, the construction of the 'obesity epidemic' needs to be challenged because of its effects on the lives of individuals and social groups: effects that are not as positive and health promoting as proponents of the 'obesity epidemic' would have us believe. In this and the next chapter we will look to two broad areas of research and writing to do this: feminist writings on the body and contemporary sociological analyses of health.
It is generally agreed that second wave feminism has led the way, in the English-language literature, in challenging notions of the body that simply take it to be a biological object to be studied in the context of the medical and biological