Man and Mountains

The Stories Men Tell About Weight and Health

Obesity is a very different experience for men and women. From an early age, weight and body image are front and center for women. By far, most participants in obesity studies are women. And roughly 80% of bariatric surgery patients are women.  So a new study of the stories men tell about weight and health offers perspective we often don’t hear.

Confession, Responsibility, and Transformation

Danielle Couch and colleagues analyzed four years of weight loss stories published in the Australian edition of Men’s Health. They identified 47 personal narratives. And those narratives present remarkably consistent patterns and values.

Almost invariably, these stories open with confession – a central ritual of many faiths for centuries.

Confession lays the groundwork for a profession of masculine responsibility for health and personal transformation. From there, these narratives move on to support cultural norms for  men. They emphasize “self-education and research, planning and tracking and project managing their weight loss, along with a commitment to the masculine hard work required.” In a word, the men take charge.

To Be Good, Respectable, and Responsible

Gender has an inescapable impact on how we cope with obesity. These personal stories bring life to our understanding of those impacts. A man’s experience with obesity might be quite different. But popular culture exerts a harsh measure of control over both genders. The end result serves to enforce a standard, say these authors:

This system conditions the audience to know what is deviant and what is normative and ideal. As mediated narrative reconstructions of individual men’s weight loss journeys, these stories are demonstrations of “what it means to be a good, respectable, and responsible person.”

No wonder the burden of weight bias is so great. Reality doesn’t always conform.

Click here for the study and here for another perspective.

Man and Mountains, photograph © AM Fotografie / flickr

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August 21, 2017