Feeding a fear of fatness? A preliminary investigation of how women with a history of eating disorders view ‘anti-obesity’ health promotion campaigns
Catling, L. and Malson, H. (2012) Feeding a fear of fatness? A preliminary investigation of how women with a history of eating disorders view ‘anti-obesity’ health promotion campaigns. Psychology of Women Section Review, 14 (1). ISSN 1466-3724
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In recent years concerns about an ‘epidemic of obesity’ and its associated implications for health have led to national and global health promotion campaigns seeking to encourage weight-loss through healthier eating and exercise. Whilst intended as health-enhancing, these campaigns have been criticized for vilifying fatness and fat people and for promoting ‘dieting’ as unproblematically healthy. The ubiquitous media idealization of thin female bodies and the concomitant normativity of dieting are now widely recognized as contributing to the development of body dissatisfaction, restrictive dieting and ‘eating disorders’ amongst girls and women. Yet little attention has been paid to the possibility that anti-obesity health promotion campaigns may mobilise similar problems. The aim of this study was to explore the perceptions of women, who had been diagnosed with an ‘eating disorder’; specifically the way they made sense of contemporary anti-obesity healthy promotion campaigns. Hence eight women, aged 19-57 years, who had had a diagnosis of ‘anorexia’ and/or ‘bulimia’ participated in face-to-face, semi-structured interviews. The resulting transcripts were analysed qualitatively using a discourse analytic method. Findings indicate that anti-obesity campaigns were often construed not only as health-promoting but also as ‘anorexogenic’ and ‘bulimogenic’. This emerged in four key ways where these campaigns were portrayed as (i) exacerbating already-existing cultural denigrations of fatness and idealisations of thinness; (ii) justifying fat-phobic bullying; (iii) mobilising ‘unhealthy’ eating practices; and (iv) occluding problems of under-weight and ‘disordered’ under-eating. The implications of our analysis for future weight-related health promotion of this preliminary study are briefly discussed.
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