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Obesity, Stigma and Reflexive Embodiment: Feeling (and illustrating) the “W...

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University of York

Wentworth College, W/222

Heslington

YO10 5DD

United Kingdom

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Existing research overwhelmingly demonstrates that obesity stigma is an ineffective means by which to reduce the incidence of obesity and that it promotes weight-gain. However, the sensate experiences associated with the subjective experience of obesity stigma as a reflexively embodied phenomenon have been largely unexamined. We explore the unhelpfulness of weight-based stigma drawing on ethnographic research with weight-loss groups whose members were predominantly overweight/obese and of low-socio-economic status and investigate what/how obesity stigma made group members feel. We found that obesity stigma confused participant's objective and subjective experiences of their bodies. This was primarily evident on occasions when group members felt heavier after engaging in behaviours associated with weight-gain but this 'weight' did not register on the weighing scales. We conceptualise this as the weight of expectation, which is taken as illustrative of the perpetual uncertainty and morality that characterises weight-management. In addition, we show that respondents ascribed their sensate experiences of physiological responses to exercise with moral and social significance. These carnal cues provided a sense of certainty and played an important role in attempts to negotiate obesity stigma. Oli Williams has collaborated with award-winning illustrator Jade Sarson to present the study findings in the form of a comic ‘The Weight of Expectation’, which tells the story of how stigma associated with bodyweight and size gets under the skin and is felt in the flesh. Free copies of the comic will be available at the seminar.

Oli Williams PhD
Oli Williams was awarded the NIHR CLAHRC West Dan Hill Fellowship in Health Equity which he took up at the University of Bath. He later joined the SAPPHIRE Group at the University of Leicester as a Research Associate before being awarded a THIS Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship based at King’s College London. His research concerns health inequalities, co- production, patient and public involvement, knowledge translation, area-based and equitable intervention, obesity stigma, and promotion of healthy lifestyles. He is an active promoter of health equity and social change and co-founder of the art collective Act With Love (AWL):www.actwithlove.co.uk

Ellen Annandale
Is Professor of Sociology at the University of York. She has a longstanding research interest in health inequality which stems back to her early post-PhD research position at the University of Glasgow working on the West of Scotland 2007 Study on health in the community. She has focused particularly on gender inequalities in health from a feminist perspective. Some of her publications in this area are Women’s Health and Social Change (Routledge) and The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Healthcare (co-edited with E Kuhlman).

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University of York

Wentworth College, W/222

Heslington

YO10 5DD

United Kingdom

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