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Popular Culture: Obesity

Grace King
Madonna University

I sat in the bleak waiting room of the doctors office. The phones rang continually as
women dressed in nursing scrubs scurried behind the counter. People of all ages surrounded me,
some coughing, others pale, and some who appeared perfectly healthy. As more clients filled the
room, I began to grow more and more impatient. I studied the gray Casio watch on my wrist.
Finally an hour and a half after my scheduled appointment time a nurse peered through the heavy
metal door and called my name. She led me through what seemed like a maze of
indistinguishable hallways. I felt like an experimental mouse, except there was no cheese
awaiting me at the end. Instead there was a bulky digital scale--my enemy.
Take your shoes off and step on the scale for me, Mrs. King, the kind nurse instructed
me. I slowly slipped my worn out sneakers off, and removed my winter coat.
Is this really necessary? I asked before fully committing.
Oh, its not that bad.
Just dont show me the number, I insisted as I stepped onto the scale. Before I knew it I
was done. Well, that wasnt so bad I thought. Unfortunately, however, the digital screen failed to
zero out the number fast enough and I caught a glimpse: a whopping 200.8 pounds! I was in utter
disbelief. I sat in my designated room, and my mind ran in several different directions,
something my body clearly wasnt doing enough of. I really contemplated what I was doing
differently. I had graduated high school six months earlier, so I have not been involved in any
competitive sports. Oh, I work full time, too! It is difficult to eat healthy; it is much more
convenient to eat fast food. Additionally, my Dad passed away toward the end of my junior year
of high school. Perhaps I have been overeating to compensate for my loss. I was doing
everything I could to justify the unhealthy weight gain.

In society today, weight is a prominent issue. Series revolving around weight clutter the
television nowadays such as the Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, and My 600-lb Life. Not
only this, but commercials advertise their fat loss pills and diets that will be sure to help you lose
weight quickly. At night time when I cant sleep I browse the television guide only to be met by
countless half an hour infomercials on weight loss products like Hydroxy-cut, Jenny Craig, and
the Atkins diet. Some people are becoming so obese they can barely walk or even stand, yet they
continously shove loads of greasy, high-caloric foods into their mouths. Furthermore, there are
whole web sites and even various social network accounts that are dedicated to health and losing
weight. For example, an application called Instagram is a popular way in which people share
their photos with one another. I follow numerous profiles that post positive quotes about
pursuing a healthier lifestyle and inspiring before-and-after progress pictures.
Obesity overtime has changed definitions. In nomadic times, men found women more
desirable who were curvy and with larger hips. It has been scientifically proven that men desire
these voluptuous because they are more fertile and better suited for child bearing. It is an innate
attraction men may not be necessarily aware of. Men found women of larger size to be healthy
and better able to carry their children. Their child bearing hips, excess fat, and large breasts was
thought to be best for providing proper nutrition to children. Men believed that if a larger woman
gave birth to their children it would ensure that they would grow up and be smarter, healthier,
and stronger than those with mothers of tinier statures (Vigarello, 2013). Larger women,
therefore, were enticing because of inherent survival instincts.

In a large part of history, women who were plump and curvy were considered attractive.
This can be tracked from the sixteenth century. For example, a line from Shakespeare's poem
Venus and Adonis written in 1593 is as follows: "My beauty as the spring doth yearly grow;
My flesh is soft and plump, my marrow burning;" (Vigarello, 2013). In the quote, being heavier
set is being depicted as beautiful. To expand upon that, illustrations of Venus, who is a Roman
goddess, have always been of a larger woman. In addition, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
published in 1868 is a great example. For example, "Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen
and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth,
and white hands, of which she was rather vain (Vigarello, 2013). The author described
Margaret, specifically pointing out her robust figure and the beauty she possesses because of it.
Fat was once considered a sign of wealth. If you were overweight, than you able to afford
all of the food that money can buy. Also, if you were overweight than you most likely were not
exercising, meaning you were rich enough to bypass any physical labor; you could pay someone
to do that for you of course (Vigarello, 2013). Being fat was a sign that you were loved and cared
for by others. On the other hand, those who had tinier frames were seen as poor economically
and socially. Therefore, overweight was connected to being wealthy and happy.
Throughout history, the cultural meaning of obesity has drastically changed. A
reoccurring theme, however, is power. People in power are those with desirable factors, which is
why obese individuals were on high pedestals. With time and knowledge this is not the case now.
In the past, fat was longed for because it had positive connotations of virtue, capability, and
competence. Large women had child bearing hips which were considered vital in giving birth to
a healthy baby. Survival and endurance are powerful characteristics. Beauty is a desirable
characteristic and sets someone above others when they acquire it, so women in history who

were bigger were on a pedestal. They were portrayed in books and even paintings. Lastly, those
who ate a lot and lacked activity were deemed rich for being able to afford food and avoid labor.
Nowadays, obesity doesn't seem to have that same characteristic of power. What has changed?
What does obesity culturally mean now?
Fat is so undesirable now that people are trying anything they can to lose it whether it be
in a healthy way or a quick fix method such as a fad diet or even bariatric surgery or liposuction.
These negative perspectives including unhealthy, sick, lazy, gross, etc. of obesity are new in
comparison to the long history before it. A drastic change of definition has surfaced, perhaps to
stay. A new source of power has come to light: skinny. What has made this alteration?
Dissecting the sudden admiration of petite figures just may be the key in discovering why
obesity has become negative and what the cultural definition of it is exactly.
You can wait in nearly any cashier's line and be sure to see magazines aligning the aisle
way. Tiny attractive women are plastered on the front. Their hair perfectly curled and blowing in
the studio makeshift wind, their breasts perked, their little arms seductively running through their
mane, their toned stomachs peering through revealing clothes, and their mile-long skinny legs
stretching beneath them. On a neighboring gossip magazine the cover in bright yellow letters
reads "Sexy! Skinny! Scary! Best and Worst Beach Bodies" To the left of the cover Beyonce is
flaunting her tight, tone body. Below her, several women adorn the page, all of which have much
thicker, robust figures. Their thighs are covered with cellulite and their stomach hangs past their
bikini line. A pink box covers their faces with white dramatic letters: "Guess Who! You won't
believe it!!!" The magazine almost made it a game. Take a guess which celebrities have the
worst beach bodies--worse being those that were heavy and not perfectly smooth.
To continue on the latest skinny craze, think about what you see when walking through the

mall. Faceless mannequins pose behind transparent glass underneath bright spotlights. Most
notable about their physiques are that they are both lanky and lean. As you keep walking through
the awash shopping center, you are sure to Victoria's Secret. You can't miss the huge posters
embellished with scrawny women. They are garnished in the newest lingerie, their bellies
sinking in and their ribs protruding. They are the it girls for young females around the world, but
Being skinny is rare, in other words, not easily attainable. It requires much more exertion
to achieve a petite figure. One must treat their body like a temple, partaking in several hours of
physical activity a week and being mindful of what they are putting into their bodies. On the
other hand, it is much easier to lounge on the couch and indulge in countless sugary, accessible,
and cheap snacks. Think about it, just like how it was uncommon to see a curvy women in
nomadic times, it is equally as seldom to see smaller women now. So if skinny is desirable
because it is rare and means hard work, obesity must be undesirable because it signifies lazy.
Let's expand upon this.
In order to be fit nowadays, it takes an abundance of time, commitment, and money.
Most people work full time jobs for very little wages. Minimum wage is around eight dollars an
hour. Imagine working forty long hours a week to make only three-hundred-and twenty dollars.
That, however, doesn't include the state and federal taxes sucked out of the employee's check
each pay period. A person working full-time for minimum wage would earn roughly around a
thousand dollars a month. That may not seem so bad, but let's compare the income to the cost of
living. An apartment alone could cost up to seven hundred dollars a month. This leaves someone
with only three hundred dollars to pay for heat, electricity, cable, car insurance, and groceries.

That is not nearly enough to cover the cost of living. Knowing this, it is vital to see how much it
would be to nurture healthy eating and exercise habits.
In most grocery stores there is an aisle designated to healthy food. I must say it doesn't
come cheap to supply your body with nutritious food. Nicholas Jones, the lead author of
Telegraph, said, "'The increase in the price difference between more and less healthy foods is a
factor that may contribute towards growing food insecurity, increasing health inequalities, and a
deterioration in the health of the population, (Binkley, 2006). You can but a hamburger, soda,
and fries for about three dollars, while a healthy alternative of a water bottle and salad can cost
above seven dollars. When you are on a tight budget like most Americans it is difficult to pursue
a healthy lifestyle. Not to mention the cost of a gym membership, and the difficulty finding the
extra time between work, possibly going to school, and managing social relationships. Therefore,
skinny insinuates wealth while obesity must mean poverty.
When you fill your body with fattening food, you can expect to become fattening
yourself. Overtime, greasy, high-caloric foods have major debilitating consequences. Obesity is
linked to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and much more
which makes it the second leading cause of death. This isn't surprising due to the fact that high
calorie foods lack nutrients but are instead packed with sugar, fat, and chemicals. Being
overweight can cause cholesterol and plaque to build up in your arteries. This makes it difficult
for your heart to adequately pump oxygen rich blood to the rest of your body. Furthermore, fat
complicates blood lipid levels and the capability of your pancreas to secrete insulin to process
the glucose. With this knowledge, it is reasonable to define obesity as unhealthy.
Obesity also has plentiful social and emotional effects. Extra pounds aren't seductive, but
instead viewed as unhealthy and gross. When looked at in this unfavorable image it is ordinary to

be the object of ridicule. Not only this, but you're less likely to be considered for a job than your
able-bodied, athletic built competition. In addition, when you are overweight it is much more
difficult to join others in public activities with friends. This often leads to depression and selfhate. Obesity and depression feed off one another and become a seemingly endless selfdestructive cycle. When you are sad you have low levels of serotonin. In hopes of raising the
levels of the vital hormone, your body craves fattening food. Obese individuals treat themselves
in an effort to self-medicate. The pleasure is temporary and leads to regret and anger toward
oneself. Obesity seems to be likely to have a cultural definition of sadness and self-loathing.
There are numerous associations that accompany obesity. There must be a link between
them that correctly defines what obesity culturally means today. Let's reflect on how we reached
this point. Obesity is laziness. It is comfortable and painless to relax on a comfortable couch or
bed being entertained by the tv and unknowingly consuming thousands of calories of fattening
yet affordable treats (Wethington, Liping, Sherry, 2012). Why put your body through agony and
discomfort when it is not mandatory? As a matter of fact living a healthier lifestyle is quite
expensive. Healthy food options are not as abundant nor are they cost-effective. Moreover, the
average gym membership is around fifty five dollars a month excluding the activation fee they
impose upon you the first month. Not to mention how difficult it is to find the time when
balancing other responsibilities on your generously filled plate. Obesity is therefore indicative of
poverty. In fact, when you are eating the attainable snacks and meals you are consequently
becoming prone to other diseases, which ultimately make you unhealthy. Last but not least when
you are isolated culturally from others because of your condition it is not unlikely to become
depressed. Obesity equates to sadness. These meanings have changed overtime because of the

knowledge we have gained about obesity and how unhealthy it really is, causing a negative
aspect to form. Obesitys meaning has completely evolved as meaning of self image.
Self image is how you perceive yourself. Ones self image can be positive, providing
enough confidence and reassurance to oneself about their appearance, thoughts, and actions. On
the other hand, one can have a negative self image which makes a person unhappy about their
appearance and capabilities. With this being said, the self image you project will get the same
response in return. Those who are healthy and fit tend to feel more positive about themselves.
This comes along with the discipline they have established, their pride in their achievements,
their body flowing with nutrients and endorphins, and the positive reinforcement they are
receiving in return from their already positive self image. Those who eat fattening fried foods are
often accompanied by a negative body image and mindset. They find comfort in eating foods
high in fat and sugar. It tastes good and satisfies the cortisol being released in accordance to
stress. The food gives them temporary comfort from their life and the self-loathing they feel
toward themselves. It becomes a vicious cycle of hating oneself yet finding refuge in the very
thing that is causing this sadness. In response, their getting feedback that matches this negative
self-image of being disgusting, unhealthy, and lazy along with the knowledge we have acquired
about the sickness: obesity.
You will accommodate your lifestyle to that of your mindset and self-image. If you look
at the produce center and see fresh vegetables and fruit, you should put it in your cart oppose to
the canned fruit soaked in sugary syrup. You will begin to purchase in accordance to how you
feel. Furthermore, youll take the pain of an exercise and the sore feeling afterwards as success
and weakness leaving the body. Your body will thank you for the good treatment and so will
your bettering and transforming mind and self-image. On the other hand, when you eat such


large amounts of fattening food over a prolonged period of time, you are almost guaranteed to
put on massive pounds. Fat cells distribute and cushion your body. You grow and grow, and the
fat tries to find elsewhere to nest. Your body accommodates to the increase in fat by storing it
where it otherwise should not go, ultimately leading to other very deadly health problems such as
heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks. Last but not least, when you put yourself at the
focus of perpetual jeer, directing hatred toward yourself, others will join the crowd.Your mind
begins to deteriorate and believe the nonsense which leads to a deep depression. To make up for
the lack of serotonin brought on by the depression, obese individuals will indulge in sugary, fatpacked treats for momentary satisfaction.
When I walked out of the doctors office that day, I was determined to make a big change
in my life for the better. I knew it wouldnt be easy, but I also knew that it was necessary. I
purchased an affordable gym membership. Additionally, I incorporated healthy foods into my
diet; I ditched what was easy and accessible for what was hard but worth it. Preparing meals
ahead of time for the day has proven to be successful; Im not tempted to grab something
unhealthy out of hunger and accessibility. I even take medicine prescribed by my doctor for
depression so that it cant hold me back and be used as an excuse to eat for temporary pleasure.
In todays culture, obesity is synonymous of a negative self-image that is defined by oneself and
encouraged by others. I noticed the altering of my negative self-image which has changed my
appearance and health. I am no longer obese, but rather in a healthy weight range, with a positive


Annotated Bibliography
Binkley, J. (2006). The effect of demographic, economic, and nutrition factors on the frequency
of food away from home. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 40(2).
Fast food is often the choice people make in regards to dinner when choosing food away
from home, which is always considered the leading cause of obesity as well as nutritional
problems. Models throughout the article are used to explain visits to table service and fast
food restaurants. Demographics effects are compared and are similar to past studies. It is
noted that nutrition factors do not have much of an impact on table service; however,
those who are nutrition conscious do not tend to frequent fast food restaurants.
Grummer-Strawn, L., May, A., Wethington, H., Dalenius, K., Liping, P. (2011). Incidence of
Obesity Among Young US Children Living in Low-Income Families, 2008-2011.
Pediatrics, 132(6). doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-2145
A study was done among federally funded children 1 to 23 months old. After 24 to 35
months had passed, these children were evaluated for their height and weight. The results
indicated that 11% of the children were obese after the follow-up. Obesity was more
common in boys and higher among the younger children tested in comparison to the older
ones. Obesity was also higher among Hispanics and American Indians/Alaska Natives.
This study concluded that for obesity prevention to be most effective, it should be done at
an earlier age, especially in those children who come from low-income families.
Levy, M., Royne, M. (2011). Marketing for public health: we need an app for that. Journal of
Consumer Affairs, 45(1).
It is clear that marketing is a vital and powerful instrument used to influence consumers
and their patterns of purchase. This article notes that this tool is not being used to
encourage public health. This lack of effectiveness in marketing contributes to several
consequences that are currently affecting our public health. In order to improve the health
of the audience, communication in media needs to be directed toward proper health and
nutritionthe solution to our current problem.
Vigarello, G. (2013). The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity. Iowa City, IA:
Columbia University Press


Georges Vigarello traces obesity back to its routes. From medieval times when fat was in
of prosperity, to the Renaissance when moderation was encouraged. Vigarello examines
the role that science, fashion, fitness crazes, and health campaigns play. He transitions
from concerns of health, the realization that food is needed for energy, societys view of
fat, and the contradiction that have existed throughout history. He ends the book with the
current day and age. Vigarello acknowledges that people use their body type to define
themselves, and also makes connection between fat and personality, politics, taste, and
Wethington, H., Liping, P., Sherry, B. (2012). The Association of Screen Time, Television in
the Bedroom, and Obesity Among School-Aged Youth: 2007 National Survey of
Childrens Health. Journal of School Health, 83(8).
This article identifies that obesity has a correlation between extended screen time and the
presence of a television within teenagers bedrooms. Television, videos, and video games
that exceed two hours a day is considered excessive. The authors used surveys to notice
behavioral characteristics among certain age groups based on their screen time. Their
studies showed that 20.8% of 6 to 11-year-olds and 26.1% of 12 to 17-year-olds had
excessive screen time. Those who had a TV in their bedroom were more inclined to over
indulge in television and were often obese.
Yu, H. (2011). Parental communication styles impact on childrens attitude toward obesity and
food advertisement. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 45(1).
This article focuses on the impacts parents have on their children. We cannot ignore the
fact that the majority of the childrens time spent is with their parents. Therefore, there
must be a connection. The study investigates the influences parents play in their
communication such as their pattern of watching television and the attitudes they have
towards snacks and fast food ads that crowd the TV on commercial breaks. The author
ultimately notices the significant influence that parental communication has on childrens
obesity level.