Date of Degree
Barbara Katz Rothman
Drawing on post-structuralist and feminist theories about the relationship between knowledge, power, bodies, health, and subjectification, in this dissertation I critically analyze the experience of individuals who were medically diagnosed as obese or morbidly obese and underwent bariatric (weight loss) surgery. During the late 20th and early 21st century, the United States saw an explosion of discourse and anxiety about rising population body weights. In national public health addresses, obesity was commonly referred to as a threat to the nation state. During this same time period, anti-fat stigma significantly increased and the number of bariatric surgeries performed skyrocketed. I argue that these concurrent phenomena must be understood within a neoliberal political-economic and healthist context in which 'proper' citizenship is held to involve `proper' health (and by extension 'proper' weight). Fat bodies, within this framing, suggest `failed' citizenship and moral laxity. Through the use of qualitative interviews with bariatric patients and surgeons, as well as brief participation at peer-led weight loss surgery conferences, I explore the ways in which bariatric patients take up or refute medicalized notions of fatness. I do so by examining why formerly fat individuals underwent bariatric surgery as a means of weight loss, and the physical, physiological, psychological, and social transformations involved in this process. I show that participants experienced pervasive anti-fat stigma and that this stigma operated in ways that were simultaneously discursive, emotional, and material. I argue that choosing weight loss surgery was not just a means of achieving a visually more normal appearance, but a means by which these individuals took responsibility for their current and moreover, their future states of health. I document how, following surgery, bariatric patients reported substantial improvements in physical health as well as emotional well being. However, they also experienced significant physiological and physical side effects from both rapidly loosing a tremendous amount of weight and also living with a dramatically altered digestive system. Because of this, bariatric patients effectively trade one set of embodied health concerns for another. I demonstrate that bariatric surgery not only shifts the relationship to the body but to others as well: patients must learn to both socially manage the impact of their new eating rituals and navigate the complexities of new attentions, envy from others, and criticisms for having taken the 'easy way out.' I argue that these new embodied and social concerns are helping produce the formation of online and in-person communities around bariatric surgery. I conclude this dissertation by documenting both the forces that help push bariatric patients together, as well as those factors that pull them apart, creating divisions within bariatric communities in the process.
Meleo-Erwin, Zoë C., ""Banding Together": Biosociality, Weight Loss Surgery, and Neoliberal Discourses Around Obesity" (2013). CUNY Academic Works.