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Keywords:

  • embodiment by proxy;
  • health social movements;
  • embodied health movements;
  • circumcision;
  • breastfeeding

Abstract

This article uses the cases of pro-breastfeeding and anti-circumcision activism to complicate the prevailing conceptualisation of embodiment in research on embodied health movements (EHMs). Whereas most EHM activists draw on their own bodily experiences, in the breastfeeding and circumcision movements, embodiment by proxy is common. Activists use embodiment as a strategy but draw on physical sensations that they imagine for other people's bodies, rather than on those they experience themselves. Pro-breastfeeding activists, who seldom disclose whether they were themselves breastfed, target mothers, encouraging them to breastfeed rather than to formula feed their children in order to reduce their child's risk of disease. Anti-circumcision activists, only some of whom are circumcised men, urge parents to leave their sons' penises intact in order to avoid illness and disfigurement and to preserve the sons' rights to make their own informed decisions as adults. In both movements activists use embodiment as a persuasive strategy even though they themselves do not necessarily embody the risks of the negative health outcomes with which they are concerned. Future research on EHMs should reconceptualise EHMs to include embodiment by proxy and examine whether this important phenomenon systematically affects movement strategies and outcomes.