Consider these vignettes:
Nice to meet you! My name is Yuna. I’m 11 years old. I’m fat.
Yesterday my mom told me: If you were poked with a pin you’d explode wouldn’t you!?
Understanding language as social action draws attention to the ways in which fat stigmatizing discourses do social harm. Drawing on interviews and experiences from women and men in Osaka, Japan, I look closely at the ways in which fat stigma is expressed in Japanese, both blatantly and through more subtle language use. I focus on four key themes in people’s narratives around localized ideas about fatness. These themes are: (1) expressed pity or concern for fat people; (2) reported experiences of indirect stigma in public settings; (3) reported experiences of direct stigma in private settings; and (4) robust and repeated associations between fat and other conditions that had locally relevant negative connotations in each site. Expressed concern and pity as articulated in the first theme is a form of cloaked stigma which enacts social harm. Expressing concern, at least in these contexts, reify symbolic connections between fat bodies and their social failures.
Cindi SturtzSreetharan is an Associate Professor at ASU in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. She works at the intersection of masculinity, obesity, and stigma. Her cross-cultural collaborative ethnography Fat in Four Cultures: A Global Ethnography of Weight (University of Toronto Press) investigates how people in Japan, Samoa, Paraguay, and the US feel individual responsibility for their waistlines. In 2020, with funding from the Abe Fellowship, she began examining how US and Japanese men experience fat and overweight with a particular emphasis on the role that health policy plays in felt stigma around obesity and overweight.