Obesity in Western Culture

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Within our constantly evolving and ever-changing Western world, what is deemed as being deviant has shifted and adapted to suit the norms and values of society at large. Thus, deviancy can be defined as behaviour that violates the normative rules, understandings or expectations of social systems. The issue of obesity has become increasingly prominent within Western society and is deemed as being deviant due to its wide unacceptance throughout society. In applying the ‘Functionalism’ perspective of deviance on obesity, the ways in which society attempts to handle and understand this issue is further outlined and explained.

Obesity is a term used to describe body weight that is much greater than what is considered the healthy range. Individuals who are obese have a much higher amount of body fat than is healthy or recommended. Adults with a body mass index (BMI, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) greater than 25 kg/m2 but less than 30 kg/m2 are considered overweight (Insel, Turner, Ross, 2009).

The ways in which those who classify as ‘obese’ are perceived and portrayed by society are, within a Western society fixated on image and obsessed with reaching physical ‘perfection’, often negative and highly critical. The media plays a crucial role in shaping the idea’s and values our society holds. As we are constantly bombarded with images of ‘idealistically’ thin celebrities, it becomes evident that those who do not fit this normality are excluded from social acceptance and pressured into losing weight and fitting in. A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald stated that; “while there was sympathy for underweight models because of possible eating disorders, those with overweight body shapes were blamed for not doing something to lose weight” (Gray, 2010). It is evident here that although there is some negativity surrounded with being ‘underweight’, super-thin models and celebrities continue to be represented as acceptable...
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