What's Wrong with Fat?

What's Wrong with Fat?

by Abigail C. Saguy

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The United States, we are told, is facing an obesity epidemic-a "battle of the bulge" of not just national, but global proportions-that requires drastic and immediate action. Experts in the media, medical science, and government alike are scrambling to find answers. What or who is responsible for this fat crisis, and what can we do to stop it? Abigail Saguy argues…  See more details below


The United States, we are told, is facing an obesity epidemic-a "battle of the bulge" of not just national, but global proportions-that requires drastic and immediate action. Experts in the media, medical science, and government alike are scrambling to find answers. What or who is responsible for this fat crisis, and what can we do to stop it? Abigail Saguy argues that these fraught and frantic debates obscure a more important question: How has fatness come to be understood as a public health crisis at all? Why, she asks, has the view of "fat" as a problem-a symptom of immorality, a medical pathology, a public health epidemic-come to dominate more positive framings of weight-as consistent with health, beauty, or a legitimate rights claim-in public discourse? Why are heavy individuals singled out for blame? And what are the consequences of understanding weight in these ways? What's Wrong with Fat? presents each of the various ways in which fat is understood in America today, examining the implications of understanding fatness as a health risk, disease, and epidemic, and revealing why we've come to understand the issue in these terms, despite considerable scientific uncertainty and debate. Saguy shows how debates over the relationship between body size and health risk take place within a larger, though often invisible, contest over whether we should understand fatness as obesity at all. Moreover, she reveals that public discussions of the "obesity crisis" do more harm than good, leading to bullying, weight-based discrimination, and misdiagnoses. Showing that the medical framing of fat is literally making us sick, What's Wrong with Fat? provides a crucial corrective to our society's misplaced obsession with weight.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This is a disturbing book that many people—fat, skinny, and in between; academics and members of the medical profession; statisticians and communications specialists; and anyone who has ever thought twice about that third Oreo—will want to read. Saguy (sociology & gender studies, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; What Is Sexual Harassment?) here examines societal perceptions of fat people. She argues that, as a result of media-wide acceptance of a current "obesity epidemic" and other "frames" supporting this contention (including some that reek of racial prejudice), being overweight is, in addition to unhealthy, widely perceived as evidence of lack of self-control. Her coverage is similar to New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata's in Rethinking Thin, and the Times has reported on recently analyzed data that weighs against being too thin. Former FDC commissioner David Kessler's The End of Overeating and Marion Nestle's books, e.g., Food Politics, however, emphasize the legitimate concerns about obesity. VERDICT For both general readers and specialists.—Ellen Gilbert, Princeton, NJ
From the Publisher
"Fascinating and illuminating." —The New York Times

"Abigail Saguy asks the kinds of questions that can shift scientific paradigms, challenge prejudice, and promote social justice for people of all sizes. She backs up her clear-headed analysis of mainstream belief systems with carefully conducted research that reveals the inherent linkage between how we think about weight and how such beliefs shape not only health, but also lives and society. Anyone who's stepped on a scale or seen a media report about the so-called obesity epidemic will benefit from exploring What's Wrong with Fat?" —Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO?

"In this pathbreaking book, Abigail Saguy explores the social implications of viewing fatness as a public health crisis. Saguy's conclusions challenge conventional understandings of obesity as a moral and medical problem and draws attention to the debilitating consequences of weight-based stigma. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about public policy and cultural consciousness on matters affecting weight." —Deborah L. Rhode, author of The Beauty Bias

"'What's wrong?' is the most basic question we can ask about a social problem. At first glance, the answer may seem obvious. But Abigail Saguy's careful analysis of contemporary claims about fat reveals that it's a question that can be answered in many competing ways, and any apparent consensus is rooted in particular times, places, and social arrangements. This book invites us to think, not just about fat, but about other weighty issues." —Joel Best, author of Everyone's a Winner

"What's Wrong with Fat? excels at something sociology can do quite well-displace simple answers with a razor-sharp questioning of the question. In this lucid and comprehensive account, Saguy teases apart the different threads of contemporary discourse about obesity and investigates the potent real-world consequences of our competing ways of thinking about this social, moral, and medical issue. She reveals the meanings of fatness to be about much more than calories: they are shaped by social processes used to determine biomedical truth, and they are intertwined with the often-divisive politics of race, class, sexuality, gender, culture, and nationality. Highly recommended for people of any size or shape!" —Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research

"Being fat is bad for you. Being discriminated against because you are fat may be even worse. In this eye-opening book, Saguy shows that the war on obesity is really a war on fat people that targets women, minorities, and the poor. Social inequality-not body mass-is killing people. Saguy reveals the hidden interests behind the so-called obesity epidemic."
—Christine Williams, Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

"Provocative, thoughtful and thorough." —NatureR

"Written with clarity and passion, this mind-expanding work invites readers to consider the rights of people at any size. An insightful, profoundly nonbiased, must read for anyone in public health/medicine, nutrition/dietetics, public policy, journalism, education, counseling, and social work. Highly recommended." —CHOICE

"What's Wrong with Fat? is a well-written, carefully researched book that contributes an essential perspective on body size that will appeal to a wide range of scholars and activists. It is a bellwether in the growth of the interdisciplinary field of fat studies yet firmly grounded in sociological theory and methodology. ...Saguy's work will continue to push scholarship on health, weight, and size as well as on gender, race, class, and inequality." —American Journal of Sociology

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Product Details

Oxford University Press
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author

Abigail C. Saguy is Associate Professor of Sociology and of Gender Studies at UCLA. She is the author of What Is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne (University of California Press, 2003).

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