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Embodied empathy-in-action: overweight nurses’ experiences of their interactions with overweight patients


Kay Aranda, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Westlain House, Village Way, Falmer BN1 9PH, UK. E-mail: <>


Obesity is now commonly recognised to be a significant public health issue worldwide with its increasing prevalence frequently described as a global epidemic. In the United Kingdom, primary care nurses are responsible for weight management through the provision of healthy eating advice and support with lifestyle change. However, nurses themselves are not immune to the persistent and pervasive global levels of weight gain. Drawing on a Gadamerian informed phenomenological study of female primary care nurses in England, this paper considers the complex gendered understandings and experiences of being overweight, and of food and eating. The nurses’ emotional and injurious experiences of being large is found to be capable of producing embodied caring practices, involving a fusion of horizons with patients over how it feels to inhabit a large body. Yet, even though subjected to similar derogatory stereotypes as patients, they simultaneously reinforce the dominant and damaging individualising psychopathology inherent to anti-obesity discourses. This suggests an urgent need to expose and challenge harmful discourses surrounding women’s body size and weight in order to avoid nursing practices that unthinkingly reproduce culturally dominant and gendered understandings of weight, body size, food and eating.

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