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Framing the Fat Body: Contested Meanings between Government, Activists, and Industry



Sociologists have long recognized that social problems do not derive solely from objective conditions but from a process of collective definition. At the core of some social issues are framing competitions, struggles over the production of ideas and meanings. This article examines competing cultural meanings about the fat body. Through frame analysis of organizational materials, I map the contested field of obesity and document three cultural frames—medical frame, social justice frame, and market choice frame—as represented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), and the food industry group the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), respectively. Using the “framing matrix,” I explore each frame's key signature elements and discuss its social and cultural significance. Notably, each frame leads to different outcomes for social equality and how society thinks about fat bodies, health, and public policy.