Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Fatness and the Maternal Body

Fatness and the Maternal Body: Women's Experiences of Corporeality and the Shaping of Social Policy

Maya Unnithan-Kumar
Soraya Tremayne
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 246
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Fatness and the Maternal Body
    Book Description:

    Obesity is a rising global health problem. On the one hand a clearly defined medical condition, it is at the same time a corporeal state embedded in the social and cultural perception of fatness, body shape and size. Focusing specifically on the maternal body, contributors to the volume examine how the language and notions of obesity connect with, or stand apart from, wider societal values and moralities to do with the body, fatness, reproduction and what is considered 'natural'. A focus on fatness in the context of human reproduction and motherhood offers instructive insights into the global circulation and authority of biomedical facts on fatness (as 'risky' anti-fit, for example). As with other social and cultural studies critical of health policy discourse, this volume challenges the spontaneous connection being made in scientific and popular understanding between fatness and ill health.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-123-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Soraya Tremayne
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: Corporeality and Reproduction: Understanding Fatness through the Diverse Experiences of Motherhood, Consumption and Social Regulation
    (pp. 1-21)
    Maya Unnithan-Kumar

    Starting from the premise that the body is socially, culturally and historically constituted, this volume examines how maternal bodies are made meaningful through the discourse of gender, size and reproduction. In particular, corporeality and what it means to be fat or thin is explored in relation to womenʹs physical and subjective experiences of fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and lactation. The body has increasingly become a central means in the social sciences of understanding how power is exercised, social identity and inequality experienced.¹ The fat body itself has become the focus of diverse and contested debates within the social, medical and health...

  7. Chapter 2 The Traffic in ʹNatureʹ: Maternal Bodies and Obesity
    (pp. 22-42)
    Megan Warin, Vivienne Moore and Michael Davies

    In a recent article on the ʹobesity debateʹ, Lee Monaghan sets up the key dimensions of a problem that this chapter aims to address. As a sociologist who has written extensively about masculinity, weight-related issues and embodiment, Monaghan was invited by editors of theMenʹs Health Forum(ʹa magazine distributed to health professionals, politicians and policymakers in England and Walesʹ (2005a: 302)) to write a counterpiece to a clinical discussion on why he thought the case against obesity was overstated. The positioning of opposing arguments is a favourite journalistic device, and one which Monaghan, justifiably, felt uneasy with. He was...

  8. Chapter 3 Fat and Fertility, Mobility and Slaves: Long-Term Perspectives on Tuareg Obesity and Reproduction
    (pp. 43-70)
    Sara Randall

    The perceived relationships between fatness and fertility differ substantially over time and space. Many prehistoric depictions of fertility show plump female figurines and it is clear that fatness was seen as evidence of reproductive potential. Evolutionary theory predicts that thinner women will reproduce more slowly because they do not have adequate resources to invest in pregnancy and a range of studies have demonstrated that maternal nutritional and energetic status plays some role in the probabilities of conception, taking a pregnancy to term and producing a child who is likely to survive (Ellison 2001). On the other hand, research has shown...

  9. Chapter 4 Women of Great Weight: Fatness, Reproduction and Gender Dynamics in Tuareg Society
    (pp. 71-97)
    Saskia Walentowitz

    The fattening of young girls by milk and millet was a common practice amongst Berber and Arabic speaking nomads of the Saharan desert, until the devastating droughts that occurred during the last decades of the twentieth century. If it is now only performed in some parts of Mauritania as well as in a few Arab communities in Niger, female embonpoint still incarnates a beauty ideal that would be labelled as ʹpathological obesityʹ in the West. Whereas fat female bodies reinforce negative judgments about women in Western societies, Saharan force-feeding and fattening practices are regarded as obvious signs of ʹfemale oppressionʹ....

  10. Chapter 5 Childbearing, Breastfeeding and Body Weight in Tanzania: Three Bodies, Three Individuals, Many Different Interrelations among the Wagogo (Central Tanzania)
    (pp. 98-110)
    Mara Mabilia

    My field research among Gogo mothers in the village of Chigongwe in the Dodoma District (Central Tanzania) was promoted to understand the precociousness of malnutrition in children during the period devoted to breastfeeding.¹ The problem of malnutrition among children under five was very serious in the whole district. During the clinic for the monthly weighing in the dispensary of the Chigongwe village, I received confirmation of the percentage present in the area: 9 per cent of the children were severely undernourished (the phenomenon is clinically known asmarasmusandkwashiorkor²). My basic objective was to detect any traditional cultural breastfeeding...

  11. Chapter 6 The ʹObesity Cycleʹ: The Impact of Maternal Obesity on the Exogenous and Endogenous Causes of Obesity in Offspring in the United Kingdom
    (pp. 111-129)
    Nicola Heslehurst

    Obesity is a major public health issue on an international level, and in the United Kingdom there are numerous ways in which governments attempt to prevent obesity from proliferating. The majority of public health initiatives addressing the prevention of obesity are aimed at preventing childhood obesity through lifestyle interventions due to the relationship between childhood obesity and the subsequent development of adult obesity (Parsons et al. 1999).

    It is well recognised that children who are obese are likely to have obese parents (Parsons et al. 1999; Patrick and Nicklas 2005). Although there is no consensus on the causal relationship between...

  12. Chapter 7 Culture, Diet and the Maternal Body: Ghanaian Womenʹs Perspectives on Food, Fat and Childbearing
    (pp. 130-154)
    Ama de-Graft Aikins

    Obesity is a significant problem for African women. In some countries, more than half of the women are overweight or obese. Female obesity rates are greater than male rates. In the late 1990s obesity was seventeen times as common in Gambian women as in men, four times as common in Moroccan women as in men, and three times as common in South African women (Prentice 2006). Obesity is a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancers, which are assuming public health significance in many African countries (BMJ 2005; WHO 2005; WHO/FAO 2005).


  13. Chapter 8 Unhealthy, Unwealthy, Unwise: Social Policy and Nutritional Education in a Disadvantaged Community in Ireland
    (pp. 155-172)
    Shauna Clarke

    Obesity has come into the foreground of political consciousness and has invoked reactions in many forms. In February 2007, it has been brought to our attention in the form of the widespread media coverage of an English boy who weighed 218 pounds: said to be three times the weight of a healthy child his age. Authorities in London considered taking the obese eight-year-old into protective custody due to neglect. The conflict revolved around issues of the assertion of power and the use of certain valued forms of knowledge. In short, authorities believed that they had the power to separate a...

  14. Chapter 9 The Maharaja Mac: Changing Dietary Patterns in India
    (pp. 173-187)
    Devi Sridhar

    Obesity rates have increased dramatically worldwide. In fact, it can be argued that rates are increasing most dramatically in developing countries from a very low baseline (Nishida and Mucavele 2005; de Onis 2005). The term developing country, taken from the World Bank, refers to low- and middle-income economies: technically those with a Gross National Product (GNP) per capita of less than $3,465. Developing countries have long been associated with chronic under-nutrition and infectious disease. However, in many developing countries there has been a concurrent increase in both obesity and under-nutrition often referred to as the ʹdual burdenʹ of malnutrition (Gillespie...

  15. Chapter 10 Is there a Relation between Fatness and Reproductive Health? A Study of Body Mass Index and the Reproductive Health of Indian Women
    (pp. 188-204)
    Aravinda Meera Guntupalli

    Overweight and obesity are prevalent, not only in developed countries but also in developing countries, like India, which are experiencing nutritional transition. Diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke are increasing in India owing to changes in dietary patterns and lifestyle (Anate et al. 1998). Rapid changes in dietary patterns and lifestyles resulting from industrialisation, urbanisation, economic development and globalisation have a significant impact on populations with nutritional transition, like that of India (Popkin 1993; Griffiths and Bentley 2001; Shetty 2002). However, the fact that obesity can lead to many reproductive health problems is less...

  16. Chapter 11 Reproducing Inequalities: Theories and Ethics in Dietetics
    (pp. 205-223)
    Lucy Aphramor and Jacqui Gingras

    According to the Director of Policy and Public Affairs of the International Obesity Task Force, ʹthe suggestion that there is growing ʹconcernʹ about the validity of serious health issues associated with obesity is really quite bizarreʹ (Rigby 2006: 79). That this challenge is purportedly coming from ʹacademics concerned chiefly with legal, social, political, and educational issuesʹ is also seen as singular. When, as we will demonstrate, ʹthe decision to feed the world/is the real decisionʹ (Rich 1984: 231), what does this claim for unimpeachable disciplinary authority on fatness signify? As for fatness, food and childbearing, whose business is this?


  17. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 224-226)
  18. Index
    (pp. 227-234)