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A systemic stigmatization of fat people
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Social and Psychological Studies.
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this work was to develop knowledge about and awareness of fatness stigmatization from a systemic perspective. The stigmatization of fat people was located as a social problem in a second-order reality in which human fatness is observed and responded to, in turn providing it with negative meaning. Four separate studies of processes involved in this systemic stigmatization were performed.

In study I, the association between weight and psychological distress was investigated. When controlling for an age-gender variable, this association was almost erased, questioning the certainty by which a higher weight in general is approached as a medical issue. In study II, the focus was on stigma internalization where negative and positive responses combined were connected to fat individuals’ distress. We found that both responses seemed to have a larger impact on fat individuals, suggesting that the embodied stigma of being fat sensitizes them to responses in general. In study III, justifications of fatness stigmatization was explored by a content analysis of a reality TV weight-loss show. The analysis showed how explicit bullying of a fat partner could be justified by animating the thin Self as violated by the fat Other, thus downplaying the evils of the bullying act in favor of highlighting the ideological value of thinness.

The implications of these studies were related and seated in a context comprising a historical aversion toward the fat body, a declared obesity epidemic, a new public health ideology, a documented failure to reverse this obesity epidemic, and a market of weight-loss stakeholders who thrive on keeping the negative meanings of being fat alive.

The stigmatization of fat people was intelligible from a systemic perspective, where processes of structural ignorance, internalized self-discrimination, and applied prejudice reinforce each other to form a larger stigmatizing process. In paper IV, it was argued that viewing fatness stigmatization as oppression rather than misrecognition could hold transformative keys to social change.

Abstract [en]

There are social groups in society that are categorically connected, for example by their physical, cultural or psychological markers. For political, or moral, reasons, some of these groups seem to trigger special attention in form of forceful response processes at several societal levels. This is the case with the contemporary ‘obesity epidemic’ phenomenon; postulated by the World Health Organization as one of the most severe threats to the health of future mankind. One of the downsides with such special attention is that the fat individuals find themselves caught up in seemingly unavoidable processes of devaluation.

Instead of investigating the catastrophic (well-known) psycho-social consequences of these individuals, this work focuses on connecting the devaluing processes that form a systemic stigmatization of fat individuals. From this critical perspective, it is argued that the pervasive stigmatization of fat people is not an unfortunate consequence of structural norms that passively exclude its ‘non-fits’, but an intelligible outcome of a highly active set of processes that continuously construct and re-construct a historical aversion towards fat people.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstad: Karlstads universitet, 2017. , 52 p.
Series
Karlstad University Studies, ISSN 1403-8099 ; 2017:33
Keyword [en]
obesity, fatness, systemic, stigmatization, medicalization, transformative, second-order reality
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-62752ISBN: 978-91-7063-809-1 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7063-905-0 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-62752DiVA: diva2:1135612
Public defence
2017-10-13, 11D257, Agardhsalen, Karlstad, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-09-26 Created: 2017-08-23 Last updated: 2017-09-27Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. BMI and psychological distress in 68, 000 Swedish adults: A weak association when controlling for an age-gender combination
Open this publication in new window or tab >>BMI and psychological distress in 68, 000 Swedish adults: A weak association when controlling for an age-gender combination
2013 (English)In: BMC Public Health, ISSN 1471-2458, E-ISSN 1471-2458, Vol. 13, 68- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background

Study results concerning associations between body mass index (BMI) and psychological distress are conflicting. The purpose of this study was to describe the shape of the association between BMI and psychological distress in a large sample of Swedish adults.

 

Methods

Data was measured with the General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12), in 68,311 adults aged 18–74. Self-reported data was derived from a merger of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Life and Health (Liv och Hälsa) questionnaires focusing general health and living conditions. Logistic regression analysis was used to describe the association between BMI and psychological distress when controlled for age and gender in combination.

 

Results

Women reported an overall higher psychological distress than men. A significant pattern of decreasing psychological distress with increasing age emerged among women in all BMI categories. Trends of this same pattern showed for men. Small or no differences were seen in psychological distress between those in normal weight, overweight, and obesity I categories (among women: 20.4 %, 18.4 %, 20.5 %; among men: 12.8 %, 11.2 %, 12.9 %). For both genders, any notable increase in psychological distress appeared first in the obesity II category (among women: 27.2 %. Among men: 17.8 %).

 

Conclusions

Our results raise questions concerning cultural norms regarding body norms. Does aging increase norm resistance while youth increases norm sensitivity, especially among women? The finding that psychological distress indifference between normal weight and overweight also included the obesity I category should be a point of departure in a search for important cut-off points in the BMI/ psychological distress association.

 

Results

Women reported an overall higher psychological distress than men. A significant pattern of decreasing psychological distress with increasing age emerged among women in all BMI categories. Trends of this same pattern showed for men. Small or no differences were seen in psychological distress between those in normal weight, overweight, and obesity I categories. For both genders, any notable increase in psychological distress appeared first in the obesity II category.

 

Conclusions

Our results raise questions concerning cultural norms regarding body norms. Does aging increase norm resistance while youth increases norm sensitivity, especially among women? The finding that psychological distress indifference between normal weight and overweight also included the obesity I category should be a point of departure in a search for important cut-off points in the BMI/ psychological distress association.

Keyword
BMI, Psychological distress, GHQ-12, Gender, Age
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-16009 (URN)10.1186/1471-2458-13-68 (DOI)000314766500001 ()23347701 (PubMedID)
Available from: 2012-11-30 Created: 2012-11-30 Last updated: 2017-08-23Bibliographically approved
2. Manuscript: Psychological distress in people labeled with obesity
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Manuscript: Psychological distress in people labeled with obesity
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-63961 (URN)
Available from: 2017-09-26 Created: 2017-09-26 Last updated: 2017-10-09Bibliographically approved
3. Manuscript: Justifying fatness stigmatization by animating a self in crisis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Manuscript: Justifying fatness stigmatization by animating a self in crisis
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-63962 (URN)
Available from: 2017-09-26 Created: 2017-09-26 Last updated: 2017-10-09Bibliographically approved
4. The misrecognition mindset: A trap in the transformative responsibility of critical weight studies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The misrecognition mindset: A trap in the transformative responsibility of critical weight studies
2012 (English)In: Distinktion Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, ISSN 1600-910X, Vol. 13, no 1, 93-108 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The ideal of being recognized feeds on developed recognition theories. In times of emerging self-reference, we have come to share what I call a ‘misrecognition mind-set’ making us translate every sense of deficiency as misrecognition. In response to a thin-celebrating culture that seemingly discriminates and stigmatizes the apparent failures of a prevailing slim-body-production, fat activists risk to embrace such a misrecognition mindset. I argue that a misrecognition mind-set is a double-binding trap that makes it impossible to transform society into a pattern of bodily-emancipated individuals. This paper is a first step towards a vision beyond recognition – a strong politics of social fragility built on anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson’s ecology of mind. It is within our social fragility as parts of a whole, rather than in the intersubjective efforts to overcome it as parts of a dualism, that a true acknowledgment of one’s own circumstances hits the chord of transformative possibilities

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Florence, Kentucky: Routledge, 2012
Keyword
Bateson; emancipation; mind; overweight; recognition; transformation
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-16008 (URN)10.1080/1600910X.2012.643085 (DOI)
Available from: 2012-12-01 Created: 2012-11-30 Last updated: 2017-08-23Bibliographically approved

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