Wray, Sharon and Deery, Ruth (2004) 'Fatness' as an embodied expression of oppression in the health care setting. In: The British Sociological Association Annual Conference, 22–24 March 2004, University of York. (Unpublished)

This paper explores the issue of what it means to be 'fat' for women in western (British/North American) society. Contemporary
gendered bio-medical discourse dominates attitudes towards body shapes and sizes (Bordo, 1995). In this, fatness is
constructed as 'clinical obesity' and associated with risk-taking behaviour. Under the rhetoric of 'health', a large body size
becomes symbolic of self-indulgence and moral failure (Duncan and Weitz, 1998). This, in turn, leads women to question their
sense of self and their rights to adequate health care. This paper argues the use of medical knowledge and definitions of fatness
have pathologised and stigmatised women's bodies, affecting women's access to and experience of health care (Carryer, 2001).
Further, the over reliance of health professionals on bio-medical knowledge has legitimised unhelpful diagnostic labels and
categories and led to oppressive practices. The purpose of this paper is threefold. First, to challenge rigid hegemonic
bio-medical perspectives on 'fatness' and the oppressive unequal power relations they create. Second, to examine the process
by which such perspectives come to be the only legitimate discourse. Third, to question the impact of fatness as a pathological
illness defined as 'obesity' on women' s perceptions of their bodies and experiences of health care.

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