Understanding obesity by understanding desire

Michael Gard

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Is 'obesity' an eating disorder? Keeping in mind that many people technically classified as obese eat no more than the rest of the population, we might begin answering this question by asking what it means for a person's eating to be 'disordered'. What constitutes 'normal' eating? How are ideas about 'normal' eating formed and to what extent are people culpable for the way they eat? If a person freely and happily chooses to eat what is widely considered an inordinate amount of food, could their eating habits truly be described as 'disordered', and if so, why? Does the term 'disordered' merely indicate that a behaviour fails to conform to social convention rather than being an objective bio-medical health risk? After all, not all obese people are ill or die young. In addition, no discussion of these questions could avoid the ways in which gender relations shape ideas about 'normal' or 'desirable' body shapes and 'appropriate' eating habits. There are those who argue that moving obesity from the realm of 'social deviancy' into a scientific medical framework will reduce the stigma that obese people endure and will lead to more efficacious solutions to the problems of obesity (Shell 2002; Vogel 1999). This chapter wrestles with this convergence of science and social convention in the field of obesity. The proposition that I will put forward is that the scientific study of obesity has delivered no straightforward answers to the questions posed above. This is true not because science itself is inherently evil or a particularly unreliable mode of enquiry; it is neither of these things. Rather, it is true because the nature of obesity - its causes and cures - are not in the end, scientific matters. How we respond to obesity ' what we think and do about it ' will be matters of politics and social convention, not science, which is another way of saying that obesity is a moral issue.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCritical Feminist Approaches to Eating Dis/Orders
    EditorsHelen Mason, Maree Burns
    Place of PublicationNew York
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Print)9780415418102
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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