Blog #5- Changing Perspectives on Obesity


Feeling comfortable in your own skin is difficult in a society that defines beauty by commercializing “femininity” (example: generating $$$ from lipstick, corsets, high heels, plastic surgery, weight loss surgery (WLS). While riding on the train, I saw an advertisement a couple of days ago that was promoting weight loss surgery. It showed you’re typical before and after pictures and phrases that read “No scarring!” but nothing on the health risks that constitute for “looking health”. The medicalization of obesity is led not only by surgical intervention, but also governmental initiatives and public discourse involved in the “public health crisis” (117 Throsby).

Karen Thorsby examines in her piece “Happy Re-Birthday: Weight Loss Surgery and the ‘New Me’” the methodology behind weight loss surgery (WLS) as an alternative way of surveillance and disciplining the body. With eighty percent of women participating in WLS as an alternative from dieting and other health interventions, we can understand how this disproportionately affects women and their bodies.  With the common debate that “dieting does not work” among people who are at high levels of obesity, this gives way for those undergoing WLS to commit to surgery (122). Throsby explains how surgery is observed as “opting in” to lose weight which constitutes those who choose WLS as the “subjects in the ‘war on obesity’ rather than as vilified objects (120). The decision to “opt in” surgery is often understood and regarded as a shift from being passive to taking action in one’s health (122). WLS centers also encouraged the rhetoric of “rebirth” in terms of the physical and mental transformation of the subject post-surgery. This implies that the body has been trained and disciplined to have self-control over their appetite. This behavior in relation to the body becomes normalized and embodied through proactive discourse on WLS. Deciding to go into surgery does not only change the body but is also understood as the “beginning of a new me” (122).

The discovery of the “real self” via WLS, dieting and other measures taken to meet the social standard of fit and healthy is highly problematic. Not only is this rhetoric reinforced by governmental action for social justice in the ‘war on obesity’ (led by Mayor Bloomberg in NYC) it also generates money to the culture industries that govern it. The treatment of the “fat body” as an alien life-form that has no restraint in their consumption of food places the blame and responsibility for fatness on the individual. But what characterizes this obesity “epidemic” in the 21st century is the increased role of governmentality from public officials. Tony Blair’s speech on living well described obesity as a “collective price for the failure to take shared responsibility (123 Throsby). Blair and other public officials like Michael Bloomberg are approving self-care not as merely an individual matter, but also as an essential form of active citizenship. With this type of discourse, surgery and other forms of self-transformation becomes a form of social participation. It eases people into taking measures (extreme or minimal) to fit into the category of a productive and fit citizen.

The dieting industry also plays a dominant role in our society’s ‘living healthy’ discourse. Almost every pop culture magazine has had a headline on healthy eating via a variety of diets. Interestingly I came across a blog called Junk Food Science that stated “fatness is not a risk factor for heart disease or premature death” . Findings such as this were shared in a recent American Heart Association meeting and debunked what we all thought was common knowledge on the harms of fatness. It is also stated this relationship between fat and unhealthiness was created by diet books, not scientific books.  Currently, the net worth of the US weight loss market is $60.9 billion dollars and has been increasing every year. The estimates from Marketdata Enterprise Inc. include diet practices from commercial weight loss chains, diet pills, diet trends, diet websites and diet food home delivery service. This is the profit that comes from the medicalization of obesity.


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