Interpreting Weight: The Social Management of Fatness and Thinness

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What is "too fat?" "Too thin"? Interpretations of body weight vary widely across and within cultures. Meeting weight expectations is a major concern for many people because failing to do so may incur dire social consequences, such as difficulty in finding a romantic partner or even in locating adequate employment. Without these social and cultural pressures, body weight would be only a health issue. While socially constructed standards of body weight may seem immutable, they are continuously re-created through social interactions that perpetuate or transform expectations about fatness and thinness.

Understanding social constructions of body weight requires insight regarding how people develop and use constructions in their daily lives. While structural conditions and cultural environments make important contributions to weight constructions, the chapters in this book focus on the social processes in which people engage while they interpret, negotiate, resist, and transform cultural definitions and expectations. As such, most of the chapters in this volume borrow from and contribute to a symbolic interactionist perspective.

Written by sociologists, psychologists, and nutritionists, all of the chapters in Interpreting Weight focus on how people construct fatness and thinness. The contributors examine different strategies used to interpret body weight, such as negotiating weight identities, reinterpreting weight, and becoming involved in weight-related organizations. Together, these chapters emphasize the many ways that people actively define, construct, and enact their fatness and thinness in a variety of settings and situations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The twelve chapters of this edited volume explore the social and cultural processes by which weight-related social meanings (fat, fit, healthy, obese, attractive, etc.) are created, reenforced, and managed. . . . The approach is predominantly social constructionist and symbolic interactionist, relying on interviews and observation and seeking to identify meanings and consequences of social constructs. May encourage readers to think critically and analytically about conventional notions of weight, health, and appearance. General readers; undergraduates through faculty.” L. A. Crandall, Choice "I enjoyed reading this book. The wide range of contributors made for an introduction to some names that were new to me and a welcome revisit to the work of others. I found that all the chapters had something useful to contribute." —Pam Virdi, European Eating Disorders ReviewInterpreting Weight’s subsections are weight identities, redefining weight, organizational processes in weight management, and reinterpreting weight.” — Carol A. B. Warren, Contemporary Sociology
Sociologists, psychologists, and nutritionists explore how people construct fatness and thinness. They examine different strategies used to interpret body weight, such as negotiating weight identities, reinterpreting weight, and becoming involved in weight-related organizations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780202305783
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/31/1999
  • Series: Social Problems and Social Issues Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Maurer is John S. Knight Postdoctoral Fellow in the Writing Program, Cornell University. She also serves on the board of directors of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and is an adjunct professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland University College.

Jeffery Sobal is professor in the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University. He is on the board of directors of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and has Cornell University Graduate Field Membership in the areas of nutrition, development sociology, and epidemiology.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Introduction
1 The Social Management of Fatness and Thinness 3
Pt. II Weight Identities
2 The Adoption and Management of a "Fat" Identity 11
3 Identity Management among Overweight Women: Narrative Resistance to Stigma 29
4 Fighting Back: Reactions and Resistance to the Stigma of Obesity 49
Pt. III Redefining Weight
5 From "Dieting" to "Healthy Eating": An Exploration of Shifting Constructions of Eating for Weight Control 73
6 Medical Discourse on Body Image: Reconceptualizing the Differences between Women with and without Eating Disorders 89
7 Weight and Weddings: The Social Construction of Beautiful Brides 113
Pt. IV Organizational Processes in Weight Management
8 Let Go and Let God: Religion and the Politics of Surrender in Overeaters Anonymous 139
9 Fat World/Thin World: "Fat Busters," "Equivocators," "Fat Boosters," and the Social Construction of Obesity 165
10 Creating "Uniformity": The Construction of Bodies in Women's Collegiate Cross Country 183
Pt. V Reinterpreting Weight
11 Pounds of Flesh: Weight, Gender, and Body Images 209
12 Re-evaluating, the Weight-Centered Approach Toward Health: The Need for a Paradigm Shift 229
Biographical Sketches of the Contributors 255
Index 259
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