Fatness, Fitness, and Feminism in the Built Environment: Bringing Together Physical Cultural Studies and Sociomaterialisms, to Study the “Obesogenic Environment”

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In a climate where the “obesity epidemic” is a consistent focus within discussions of public health, the theory that the environment is one of the main drivers of the “obesity epidemic” is coming to the fore. In this paper, we look to the example of the “obesogenic environment” and the literature tracing the relationship between bodies, the environment, and physical activity as a vehicle through which to explore the potential for sociomaterialist theories within a feminist Physical Cultural Studies (PCS). First, we examine the ways in which the relationship between obesity and the environment is explicated in the academic literature on the topic, with a focus on how—or if— the environment is depicted as shaping inhabitants’ physical activity practices, or vice versa. We then explore how we might work to reconcile the paradoxical binary of environmental determinism and individual agency in the literature. More specifically, and following calls for PCS to move beyond anthropocentrism, we examine how the relationship between physically (in)active bodies and their environments might be complicated through engagement with sociomaterialisms. We conclude by outlining an approach to the study of “obesogenic environments” that combines Physical Cultural Studies (PCS) and feminist sociomaterialisms to maintain a focus on the politics of health and fatness in this neoliberal moment.

Esmonde and Jette are with the Department of Kinesiology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Address author correspondence to Katelyn Esmonde at kesmonde@umd.edu.
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