A feminist appraisal of the experience of embodied largeness : a challenge for nursing : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Massey University, New Zealand
To be a fat woman is to experience a prolonged, personal battle with the body. The battle is enacted in a social context which is the site of remarkable consensus about the personal culpability of fat people for their bodily largeness; for women in particular the sanctions are especially powerful. In this research nine large women have engaged in a prolonged dialogue about the experience of being 'obese'. In the course of a feminist research endeavour, with a researcher who is similarly positioned, they have both contributed to and gained from a project which illuminates the experience of largeness alongside a critical examination of the discourses which shape body size. This dissertation critiques a dominant medical discourse which ignores conflicting research and supports a narrow view of health by simplistically linking increased body weight with poor health outcomes. Such is the hegemonic power of medicine that an examination of both nursing and popular literature in the area of study, reveals widespread acceptance of the notion that to be thin is to be healthy and virtuous, and to be fat is to be unhealthy and morally deficient. For nursing, the unquestioning obedience to medical teaching, raises serious questions about nursing's autonomy and separateness from medicine. Nurses have perpetuated an unhelpful and reductionist approach to their care of large women , in direct contradiction to nursing's supposed allegiance to a holistic approach to health care. Current strictures on women's body size and continued support for reduction dieting leave large women with the choice between two binary opposites; to diet or not to diet. Either choice has consequences which are traumatic and not health promoting. The experience of largeness emerges as a socially constructed disability in which many women are denied the opportunity to be fully healthy.