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Many people consider their weight to be a personal problem; when, then, does body weight become a social problem? Until recently, the major public concern was whether enough food was consistently available. As food systems began to provide ample and stable amounts of food, questions about food availability were replaced with concerns about "ideal" weights and appearance. These interests were aggregated into public concerns about defining people as "too fat" and "too thin."
Social constructionist perspectives can contribute to the understanding of weight problems because they focus attention on how these problems are created, maintained, and promoted within various social environments. While there is much objectivist research concerning weight problems, few studies address the socially constructed aspects of fatness and thinness. This book however draws from and contributes to social constructionist perspectives.
The chapters in this volume offer several perspectives that can be used to understand the way society deals with fatness and thinness. The contributors consider historical foundations, medical models, gendered dimensions, institutional components, and collective perspectives. These different perspectives illustrate the multifaceted nature of obesity and eating disorders, providing examples of how a variety of social groups construct weight as a social problem.
Jeffery Sobal is Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University. He is on the board of directors of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and he has Cornell University Graduate Field Membership in the areas of Nutrition, Development Sociology and Epidemiology.
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.
Drs. Sobal and Maurer are coeditors of a companion volume, Interpreting Weight: The Social Management of Fatness and Thinness, and Eating Agendas: Food and Nutrition as Social Problems
“Like its companion Interpreting Weight (Choice, Feb. 2000), this edited volume employs a social constructionist perspective. However, the articles here are sociohistorical and political-economic analyses of the processes that have defined social problems related to body weight. . . . The emphasis on the role of institutions and the historical perspective here will be particularly appreciated by those who may find that a symbolic interactionist perspective provides an incomplete sociological understanding of weight-related themes. General readers; undergraduates through faculty.”
—L. A. Crandall, Choice
“Weighty Issues focuses on fatness and thinness as social problems with subsections on historical foundations, medical models, gendered dimensions, institutional components, and collective processes.”
—Carol A. B. Warren, Contemporary Sociology
|1||Body Weight as a Social Problem||1|
|Pt. II||Historical Foundations|
|2||Children and Weight Control: Priorities in the United States and France||9|
|3||Fat Boys and Goody Girls: Hilde Bruch's Work on Eating Disorders and the American Anxiety about Democracy, 1930-1960||31|
|Pt. III||Medical Models|
|4||Constitutional Types, Institutional Forms: Reconfiguring Diagnostic and Therapeutic Approaches to Obesity in Early Twentieth-Century Biomedical Investigation||53|
|5||Defining Perfect and Not-So-Perfect Bodies: The Rise and Fall of the "Dreyer Method" for the Assessment of Physique and Fitness, 1918-26||75|
|Pt. IV||Gendered Dimensions|
|6||Ideal Weight/Ideal Women: Society Constructs the Female||97|
|7||Dieting Women: Self-Surveillance and the Body Panopticon||117|
|8||Fleshing Out the Discomforts of Femininity: The Parallel Cases of Female Anorexia and Male Compulsive Bodybuilding||133|
|Pt. V||Institutional Components|
|9||Commodity Knowledge in Consumer Culture: The Role of Nutritional Health Promotion in the Making of the Diet Industry||159|
|10||Meanings of Weight among Dietitians and Nutritionists||183|
|Pt. VI||Collective Processes|
|11||Too Skinny or Vibrant and Healthy?: Weight Management in the Vegetarian Movement||209|
|12||The Size Acceptance Movement and the Social Construction of Body Weight||231|
|Biographical Sketches of the Contributors||251|