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Morality and Health: News Media Constructions of Overweight and Eating Disorders
Saguy, A.C., & Kjerstin, G.

2010 - Source:  Social Problems, 57:2, 231-250.

This article examines how widely shared cultural values shape social problem construction and, in turn, can reproduce social inequality. To do so, we draw on a comparative case study of American news reporting on eating disorders and overweight/obesity between 1995 and 2005. In the contemporary United States, thinness is associated with high social status and taken as evidence of moral virtue. In contrast, fatness is linked to low status and seen as a sign of sloth and gluttony. Drawing on an original data set of news reports, we examine how such social and moral meanings of body size inform news reporting on eating disorders and overweight. We find that the news media in our sample typically discuss how a host of complex factors beyond individual control contribute to anorexia and bulimia. In that anorexics and bulimics are typically portrayed as young white women or girls, this reinforces cultural images of young white female victims. In contrast, the media predominantly attribute overweight to bad individual choices and tend to treat binge eating disorder as ordinary and blameworthy overeating.

In that the poor and minorities are more likely to be heavy, such reporting reinforces social stereotypes of fat people, ethnic minorities, and the poor as out of control and lazy. While appreciation for bigger female bodies among African Americans is hailed as protecting against thinness-oriented eating disorders, this same cultural preference is partially blamed for overweight and obesity among African American women and girls.

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