Reading Fat and Slender Bodies: Diet Culture and Capitalism



In her video above, Nash points out how often people who are perceived as overweight or fat are belittled, shamed, or insulted “for their own good” or out of well-meaning “concern.” Consider Bordo’s anecdote about the woman on the television talk show whose audience insisted that the woman could not be both fat and happy (pp. 203-204). What is it about “fat” bodies that makes people so nervous…or worse, downright hostile?

Particularly fat female bodies.

Since women are often judged first and foremost by their appearance, it is also often deemed acceptable for others to comment on women’s bodies; and one of the easiest ways to cut a woman down to size – physically, intellectually, emotionally – is to call her fat.

And as a culture, our obsession with diets – and a medical community that often equates weight loss with better health and a quick fix to all sorts of symptoms and complaints –  only fuels this fat-shaming culture. Consider how, more than individuals, such body-shaming actually profits corporations:



Remember that definition of feminism from bell hooks? People, not profit.


As Susan Bordo argues in her chapter “Reading the Slender Body,” we read others’ bodies, and our own, as cultural texts, especially as women, and we often connect all sorts of personality traits or characteristics with those bodies based on their shape, weight, and perceived slenderness or beauty.


  1. How are unattractive women or women who were perceived as overweight generally portrayed in advertising?
  2. In American culture, what judgments do we often make about people with “fat” bodies? What characteristics do we assign to “fat” female bodies?
  3. According to Bordo, what is our culture’s obsessions with “fighting the enemy flab” really about, if not simply about health or weight management, as we’re so often told?
  4. How are eating disorders – the “extremes” of obesity and bulimia/anorexia – a logical symptom of this cultural obsession?
  5. Historically, how have the cultural politics of fat bodies been connected to socioeconomic status, or class?

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