Obesity and Fatness in America Body Image Essay

Total Length: 2640 words ( 9 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 3

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The purpose of this historiography is to use secondary sources that will make for a greater understanding of my topic and how it relates to American body culture. In the last six decades obese people have faced discrimination in American society because of their physical appearance. Typically, society has categorized obese people as unhealthy individuals; their appearance causes discomfort; they are viewed pessimistically by employers and their career opportunities as a result have been limited. While more than 27% of the American population is obese, the federal government does nothing to prevent employment discrimination against obese or overweight people. The focus of this paper will be to analyze the issue of cultural discrimination against obese and overweight individuals and provide recommendations for changes with regard to the treatment of obese people in society so that they might be more accepted socially and enabled to fit more seamlessly into mainstream American culture, society, and economy.



The history of fat is not an isolated story. As Rice notes, fat shaming and the social and cultural perspective of obesity in the West has ties to other cultural cues.[footnoteRef:1] Rice states that the cultural message regarding fitness and fatness contribute to perceptions of that "fat" people are unfit for society, do not have good social values, and are somehow morally inferior to others.[footnoteRef:2] Stearns moreover provides a timeline of how the history of fat really took shape throughout the 20th century in the West, beginning with the turn-of-the-century medical "phase" followed by the middle-century misogynist "phase" from the 1920s to the 1960s, whereupon a new "health" phase took over coupled with marketing of health products and fitness gear/apparel.[footnoteRef:3] [1: Carla Rice, "Becoming "the Fat Girl": Acquisition of an Unfit Identity." Women's Studies International Forum 30, no. 2 (2007): 158.] [2: Rice, "Becoming the 'Fat Girl',"159.] [3: Peter Stearns, Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West (NY: New York University Press, 2002), 4.]



Thus, it is not surprising to find that Anna Kirkland in "Representations of Fatness and Personhood: Pro-Fat Advocacy and the Limits and Uses of Law" argues that size acceptance or pro-fat rights movements have existed in the United States for decades where it has been established successfully as a political identity for a set group of fat people.[footnoteRef:4] Typically, fat advocates continue to rely on legal strategies and self-understanding by increasing number of successful identity groups. However, they are being confronted by many different kinds of disputes based on lack of an overall definition of the fatness identity. The author further believes that pro-fat advocacy in the United States seeks to take the advantages of the law to reconfigure the status of fat people towards a recognition of political identity. Kirkland identifies the "National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)" as the prominent social organization devoted to personal, social, legal, health and political concerns of fat people.[footnoteRef:5] NAAFA also uses the legal topics to explain the legal cases that include employment discrimination. Finally, the organization urges the lawmakers to include weight and height categories in the law to protect fat people under the civil rights laws, and improving social acceptance of the obese people. [4: Anna Kirkland, "Representations of Fatness and Personhood: Pro-Fat Advocacy and the Limits and Uses of Law." Representations 82, no. 1 (2003), 24.] [5: Anna Kirkland, "Representations of Fatness and Personhood: Pro-Fat Advocacy and the Limits and Uses of Law," 25.]



Steven Greenhouse in his research article titled "Overweight, but Ready to Fight" focuses on the discrimination issue against obese.[footnoteRef:6] The author cited the example of how Mcdonald discriminated Joseph Connor because he was an obese provoking Connor to sue Mcdonald for not employing him because of his weight.

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Typically, increasing number overweight people in the United States are facing similar discrimination and law are offering little protection to address the problem. The author maintained that 27% of American are overweight or obese and the data is climbing daily coupled with the criticism against Mcdonald. Despite a surge in the number of overweight population in the United States, the law offers little or no protection for the obese people. Although, employment law condemns discrimination based on race, sex, color and age, nevertheless, the law does not prohibit "employers from discriminating based on physical appearance" making some people to believe that employers are focusing hiring mainly the good looking people.[footnoteRef:7] Thus, the advocates for the overweight are lobbying to prevent employment discrimination based on the physical appearance. Steven further reveals that many obese people are unable to win the court case because there is no clause in the Disability Act that cites a discrimination based on physical appearance.[footnoteRef:8] Thus, when obese people argues that they are being discriminated against based on their disability, the court normally rejects their arguments on the ground that obesity is not a disability, and the employer has the right to discriminate against the overweight people. [6: Steven Greenhouse, "Overweight, but Ready to Fight; Obese People Are Taking Their Bias Claims to Court." New York Times, August 4, 2003.] [7: Greenhouse, "Overweight, but Ready to Fight; Obese People Are Taking Their Bias Claims to Court," 1.] [8: Greenhouse, "Overweight, but Ready to Fight; Obese People Are Taking Their Bias Claims to Court," 1.]



However, the court needs to change the ruling against overweight people to assist them gaining full employment in the United States. In 2002, the Supreme Court in New Jersey reached a different conclusion by pointing out that obese people of 5-foot-9 with 400 pounds were disabled in the New Jersey Discrimination law because this category of people may suffer a metabolic disorder. Despite the assertion of this rule, the Federal code has not yet categorized the obese people as people with disability. So with laws not going in to effect these people are still discriminated against.



Jones in her research article titled "The Framing of Fat: Narratives of Health and Disability in Fat Discrimination Litigation" observes that change needs to be implemented with regard to the protection of obese people against discrimination.[footnoteRef:9] The author points out that fat discrimination is common in the American educational institution, business and healthcare organizations making obese people facing employment discrimination in the society. However, the anti-obesity activists are claiming that this sort of discrimination is unacceptable because stigmatization of fat bodies often prevent obese people to live a healthier life. Thus, the acceptance movement used the scientifical notation to argue that fat bodies can live the healthier life. Similarly, the legislative advocacy has pointed out that fat discrimination is unacceptable because fat people can be healthy. Jones supports her argument from the cases filed by obese people where they are able to demonstrate that they are healthy compared to disable and unhealthy people. Theoretically, they are able to challenge the discrimination using the claim of good health. While some plaintiffs have been successful in claiming that fat bodies are health, some plaintiff is unable to win the cases based on the believe that fatness is a disability. The author suggests that fat people who use disability as a claim should work with disability right movements that demand access and respect for….....

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Bibliography


Bailey, Courtney. "Supersizing America: Fatness and Post-9/11 Cultural Anxieties." Journal of Popular Culture 43, no. 3 (2010): 441-462.

Cederstrom, Carl, Andre Spicer, The Wellness Syndrome. MA: Polity Pres, 2015.

Greenhouse, Steven. "Overweight, but Ready to Fight; Obese People Are Taking Their Bias Claims to Court." New York Times, August 4, 2003.

Jones, Lauren E. "The Framing of Fat: Narratives of Health and Disability in Fat Discrimination Litigation." New York University Law Review 87 (2012): 1996-2039.

Kasson, John. Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man. NY: Hill and Wang, 2001.

Kirkland, Anna. "Representations of Fatness and Personhood: Pro-Fat Advocacy and the Limits and Uses of Law." Representations 82, no. 1 (2003): 24-51.

McKenzie, Shelly. Getting Physical. KS: University Press of Kansas, 2013.

Parr, M Jessica. "Obesity and the Emergence of Mutual Aid Groups for Weight Loss in the Post-War United States." Social History of Medicine 27, no. 4 (2014): 768-88.

Rice, Carla. "Becoming "the Fat Girl": Acquisition of an Unfit Identity." Women's Studies International Forum 30, no. 2 (2007): 158-74.

Strings, Sabrina. "Obese Black Women as "Social Dead Weight": Reinventing the "Diseased Black Woman"." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 41, no. 1 (2015): 107-30.

Tavel, Clarke Michael. "Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture." Journal of Social History. Summer 46, no. 4 (2013): 1077-1079.

Walden, Keith. "The Road to Fat City: An Interpretation of the Development of Weight Consciousness in Western Society." Historical Reflections. 12, no. 3 (1985): 331-73.

Seng, Loh Eng. "The Economic Effects of Physical Appearance." Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press) 74, no. 2 (1993): 420-438.

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