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Sociol Health Illn. 2008 Jan;30(1):97-111. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01029.x.

Bodies, mothers and identities: rethinking obesity and the BMI.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, Durham.


Despite the intense level of attention directed towards obesity, there has been limited success in addressing the rising rates of this public health phenomenon. This paper argues that current approaches to obesity fail to consider concepts of embodiment, and in particular, that gendered and class-based experiences of embodiment are ignored in health promotion practices and policies. Drawing on Bourdieu's concept of habitus, this ethnographic study sought to locate obesity within the biographies and everyday experiences of two groups of women from differing socio-economic settings. Rather than identify with the clinical category of obesity, these women constructed identities that were refracted through a gendered and classed habitus, and in particular, through their role as mothers. Food provision and practices were central to constructs of mothering, and these relational identities were at odds with the promotion of individual behavioural changes. Moreover, these women's daily lives were shaped by different class-based aspects of habitus, such as employment. In demonstrating the ways in which obesity is enmeshed in participants' taken-for-granted, everyday practices, we problematise the universality of health-promotion messages and highlight the integral role that the critical theory of habitus has in understanding the embodiment of obesity.

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