Deconstructing Health and the Un/Healthy Fat Woman


Irmgard Tischner, Institute of Health and Society, University of Worcester, Worcester, WR2 6AJ, UK.


Dominant discourses represent body weight as a consequence of lifestyle, equating ‘fatness’ with ‘disease’ and ‘thinness’ with ‘health’. Consequently, fat subjects become framed as lazy and not willing to follow a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. In neoliberal societies, where ‘the autonomous, self-regulating individual’ is highly valued, the previous construction of fat subjects appears particularly damning. In this study, we explore how women who self-identify as ‘large’ negotiate their body weight, health and neoliberal credentials. To this end, interviews were conducted with 18 women, and the transcripts were analysed using discourse analysis. The constructions of health and well-being articulated by the women were much broader and more complex than those reproduced in dominant neoliberalised discourses of health and body weight. Although most participants positioned themselves as healthy and health literate, prevailing constructions of ‘fat is unhealthy’ were also reproduced, and participants often struggled with the conflicting subject positions of the healthy and health-conscious ‘good neoliberal citizen’ and the fat ‘failed’ individual risking ill-health. Drawing on our analysis, we assert that, regardless of who is right in debates about the putative health implication of fat, the current reductionist approach to health and the global ‘war on obesity’ are problematic and potentially harmful. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.