Pathologizing “Fatness”: Medical Authority and Popular Culture

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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  • 1 Macquarie University
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Medical narratives surrounding the Western “obesity epidemic” have generated greater fears of “fatness” that have permeated Western collective consciousness, and these anxieties have manifested themselves as a moral panic. The medicalization of fatness via the establishment of the disease of “obesity” has necessarily entailed a combining of medical narratives/imperatives and historico-cultural discursive formations of fatness as a moral failing and as an aesthetic affront. The threat that this epidemic poses is framed by medical discourse not simply as endangering health, but fraying the very (moral) fabric of society. In this article, I argue that all the discourses that circulate around fatness and (re)produce it as a pathology have been subsumed under, and absorbed by, dominant medical narratives. I suggest that a medico-moral discourse has inf(l)ected popular understandings of fatness as an affront to health that gives way to deeper, more fundamental social concerns and anxieties about normalization and normative appearance. Specifically, I examine the constructions of individual responsibility that are evident in medical narratives and discourses about obesity.

Samantha Murray is with the Department of Critical & Cultural Studies, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Portions of this article are from S. Murray, The Fat Female Body, (forthcoming), published by and reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

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