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Abstract

Title: INTRODUCING “SYMBOLIC WEIGHTISM”: DISCOURSES OF AGENCY AND MORALITY IN OBESITY STIGMA

Author: Meredith B. Stockton, MS

Affiliations: Institute of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science

Purpose: With the increasing obesity rates in the United States and the United Kingdom, the number of weight-based discrimination cases continues to rise. This study compares obesity stigma to racial stigma, a link first proposed by Crandall (1994), to frame weight-based discrimination as an equally legitimate and severe form of prejudice. Method: Using a social psychological perspective, a thematic and critical discourse analysis was conducted on 170 YouTube video comments and 27 press releases from the American and British Medical Associations to examine how obesity is understood in lay and medical systems of knowledge. Results: Being overweight was primarily considered an individual’s problem, like race, yet it was deeply tied to ideas of nation. Dominant discourses of personal agency and morality also emerged, with weight gain being perceived as intentional and sinful across the texts. Conclusions: It is proposed that, similar to symbolic racism, these antifat discourses stem from greater individualistic and Christian ideologies, which have endured in medical, religious, and national institutions. Therefore, the current state of obesity stigma can be conceptualized as a form of symbolic weightism.

Keywords: Obesity, Stigma, Ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

Learning Objectives

After viewing this presentation, the audience will…

Objective 1: Be able to identify the similarities between racial and weight-based stigma.

Objective 2: Have a greater understanding the most common stigmatizing themes and discourses lay and expert medical texts refer to when discussing obesity or overweight people.

Objective 3: Be able to recognize the intimate relationship between dominant ideologies, institutions, and discourses in creating discriminatory social practices against obese and overweight people.

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