Felt stigma and obesity: introducing the generalized other

Soc Sci Med. 2015 Apr;130:9-15. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.01.048. Epub 2015 Jan 29.


People with a big body are tainted in western societies. Although most research on obesity occurs in the medical context, few studies investigate characteristics and effects of feelings and fears related to the fat stigma in the absence of overt discrimination. By linking Norbert Elias's and George H. Mead's theoretical frameworks, this paper offers a different approach to understanding and investigating felt stigma. The study is based on secondary data (25 semistructured interviews with children and adolescents). It explores internalized societal perspectives on overweight and obesity and inquires into the way in which interviewees handle the blame frame of personal responsibility during their interview. The preliminary findings suggest that specific forms of managing one's self-presentation in interviews indicate felt stigma. Consequently, the paper argues for an analytical approach that extends the focus on the content of interviews to include its dynamics.

Keywords: Children and adolescents; Discrimination; Fat stigma; Felt stigma; Generalized other; Germany; Qualitative analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Prejudice*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping*