BSP Podcast: Margaret Steele on Weight-Based Shame

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Margaret Steele present a paper from our 2020 online annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’.

Season 5 episode 111: 1 May 2021

This episode of Season 5 of the BSP Podcast features Margaret Steele, University College Cork. The presentation is taken from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

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Margaret Steele
‘Weight-Based Shame as an Affective Determinant of Health’

ABSTRACT: Dolezal and Lyons (2017) have argued that shame may be an ‘affective determinant of health.’ They include weight as a potential site of such shame, and they recommend further research including, “Explore shame associated with different health problems and in different settings.” (2017, 262) In this paper, I take up that invitation, describing how shame might be a determinant of health for fat/obese people, due to its effects on their constitution of their own bodies as sites of “I can.” Weight-based shame can make people reluctant to engage in physical activity. This reluctance is partly explained by a desire to avoid the acute shame associated with, for example, a derisive comment about one’s body. This fear of how others might respond to one’s body could itself have a negative effect on health by directly reducing one’s movement. However, I argue that there is also a deeper problem: Weight-based shame, I suggest, affects how people constitute themselves not just as objects but as subjects. When we move less as a result of weight-based shame, we lose strength, endurance and agility. I argue this diminished capacity is directly given in experience. The body itself feels stiffer, more easily fatigued. The body’s correlates, spaces and terrains, feel inaccessible, even hostile. The body comes to feel like a burden instead of a site of agency. Thus weight-based shame not only reduces a person’s movement; it can also reduce both their perceived and their actual ability to move. Iris Marion Young said women in a sexist society are physically handicapped. I make a similar claim about fat/obese people in a fatphobic society. It seems cruelly ironic that fat/obese people are shamed for moving too little in a society that handicaps them in their efforts to move.

BIO: Dr Margaret Steele is a lecturer in philosophy at University College Cork. Her research interests include philosophy and phenomenology of health, particularly in relation to fatness, fitness and food. Her work in this area draws not only on scholarly resources but also on her direct experience of living as a fat person.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?