Understanding ‘fat shaming’ in a neoliberal era: Performativity, healthism and the UK’s ‘obesity epidemic’

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Abstract

This article explores how ‘fat shaming’ as a practice that encourages open disdain for those living in larger bodies operates as a moralising tool to regulate and manage those who are viewed as ‘bad citizens’. It begins by outlining the problematic use of fat shaming language that is often used as a tool to promote ‘healthy’ lifestyle choices by those who view it as not only an acceptable way of communicating the health risks associated with obesity, but also a productive way of motivating people with overweight and obesity to lose weight. I then go on to discuss how shame as it relates to body image and excess weight is culturally produced through both objective conceptualisations of deviance and subjective judgements about the moral character of those who are living with excess weight. Adopting a feminist theoretical perspective, this article further considers the reciprocal nature of fat shaming by calling attention to how shame as a felt emotion is dependent on understandings of oneself in relation to others, as well as the relationships that one forms with others. In this way, I argue that shame in general, and fat shaming in particular, is performative to the extent that it exists as a relational construct that is iteratively produced through the language and actions that give it meaning.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFeminist Theory
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2021

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