Are you watching carefully? Then I’ll begin. I’ll show you how you think and feel about fat bodies. Really fat bodies, the one’s that get doctors and politicians vexed, the ones that their owners sometimes hide away from public view, the ones that no one wants to own. Make yourself comfortable, line up those TV-time snacks, and settle in for this week’s episode of Nip/Tuck, because it’s time to be educated on just what fat means. All that and more from one of the more popular of the American medical soaps, if, that is, the authors of a paper published in the December issue of Medical Humanities are to be believed.
Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, Geneviève Rail and Marc Lafrance argue that Nip/Tuck can be understood as a crystallisation of the dominant discourse surrounding fat bodies. Through an examination of an episode involving morbidly obese Momma Boone, they show how Momma’s story is used by the programme’s makers to instructs its viewers in how to think and feel about the fat body. To quote these authors “Foucault’s formulation of the confessional is seen to be useful to theorise the ways in which biopedagogy leads subjects to believe and ultimately take part in processes leading to salvation” with ““confessions of the flesh”, that is, confessions aimed at revealing her obese body so that it can be rescued, rehabilitated and saved.” They also argue that “Momma Boone’s body is made to inspire fear and panic in so far as it provides constructed “evidence” regarding the consequences of the obese subject’s failure to convert to the truth of obesity discourse.”
Every so often newspapers and radio shows feature discussions in which fat people talk about the discrimination they experience, and about the prejudicial way in which they are perceived by others. Rail and Lafrance’s carefully argued and challenging paper provides a refreshing perspective on some of the reason’s that might be so.