Obesity Stigma, Upward Mobility, and Symbolic Body Capital in a Rapidly Changing World

Advanced Seminar Co-Chairs Eileen Anderson-Fye, Robson Junior Professor, Department of Anthropology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and Alexandra Brewis Slade, Director and President’s Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change Arizona State University, Tempe

Colloquium, SAR Boardroom

Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 12:00–1:00 pm, Free

The growing global prevalence of obesity is associated with modernization and the adoption of “Western” (i.e., North American) dietary and physical activity practices. Likewise, noted increase in stigma against overweight and obesity in societies that traditionally valued larger bodies is held to be a consequence of modernization. Yet the trends of rising obesity and rising fat stigma are not strictly linear; in terms of stigma, a tipping point of economic prosperity appears to exist where the idea of fatness as an undesirable personal and social characteristic begins to proliferate. While global processes are indicated in the increase of fat stigma, local context makes a profound impact on the predictors, processes, and effects of the rise of fat stigma in the developing world. Specifically, symbolic body capital (awareness of the body as a resource for status advancement) appears to be a key mediator in the relationship between socially extant and internalized fat stigma. Anthropological inquiry brings key modes of analysis in unpacking this important set of dynamics related to human health, social mobility, moral personhood, and embodied meaning and practice. Pilot data, emerging theory, and related work of SAR seminar participants will be introduced in this colloquium.

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