"More-or-less body": social perception of normativity of the body in Poland
Anna Klonkowska (University of Gdansk)
Agnieszka Maj (Warsaw University of Life Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
The article presents results of a qualitative, interview-based research study carried out in Poland, which aimed at exploring the main social concepts associated with bodily ‘normativity’ and ‘passability’: the notion of a ‘normal’ body weight and attitude towards over- and underweight individuals.
Paper long abstract:
Our article is based on the empirical material gathered during 60 qualitative interviews conducted in Poland. The subject of the research was the social perception of 'normativity' of the body weight. As in the societies influenced by Western culture, citizens are becoming more and more preoccupied with maintaining the 'proper' body size, we wanted to investigate, what the 'normal' body weight means. We were particularly interested in the common concepts and notions associated with the 'normal' body weight as well as in possible reasons for rejection of people, whose bodies do not fall within the social standards of 'normativity' of the body, for example the obese or the extremely slim. We understand 'normativity' broadly, as "fitting into the social norms" and are vividly interested in the social norms, standing behind the socially shared knowledge of what is the 'right' body. Sander L. Gilman coined the term 'to pass' in order to indicate the moment in which an individual gains the social acceptance of their personal appearance by the rest of the society (Gilman, 2001). We wanted to learn more about the grounds, on the basis of which certain body silhouettes are accepted and other rejected. The study was anchored in the tradition of sociology, yet it used research methods common for both sociology and anthropology (in-depth interviews). The interviews were conducted with the use of visual materials, computer generated images, representing different types of men's and women's silhouettes, ranging from "severe underweight" to "obesity".
Bodies out of bounds: anthropological approaches to obesity practices