American Sociological Association

Teaching Critical Perspectives on Body Weight: The Obesity “Epidemic” and Pro-Ana Movement in Classroom Discussions

While most sociology students are well prepared to think critically about inequalities involving race, gender, social class, and sexuality, the topics of body weight and health present some challenges for classroom discussion. Primarily, this is due to the body’s status in contemporary society as simultaneously malleable (able to be changed) and intractable (an indicator of moral worth). Such associations lead to cases of size discrimination—what is often called “sizeism”—with impacts similar to what is experienced around race and gender discrimination. To challenge students’ taken-for-granted assumptions regarding weight and health, I detail two classroom techniques involving deconstructing the obesity “epidemic” and comparing the pro-ana community to bodybuilders for their similar use of extreme behaviors to achieve ideal bodies. In this way, students learn to critically assess something that has held a stigmatized position (fatness) as well as something that has held a valued position (thinness).


David J. Hutson





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