Doctoral Dissertation Defense by Nicole Mixson-Perez

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Venue:MMC, SIPA 503

UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SCHOOL BULLETIN ANNOUNCEMENT

Florida International University University Graduate School

Doctoral Dissertation Defense

Abstract

Sizing Up Miami: A Multilevel Analysis of the Discourses and Politics of Obesity

by Nicole Mixson-Perez

National media attention sensationalizes the panic of obesity prevalence, placing fat bodies in the spotlight. Thus, there is an emerging concern in research and literature employing social and cultural analyses to stress criticisms of the way negative messages about obesity and fatness are delivered. Yet few studies directly engage with people of different body sizes and how their experiences interact with the discourses that frame fat bodies as part of the “epidemic.” This study is theoretically informed by scholarship centered on critical perspectives of health, food and embodiment. My study furthers existing research and theory in providing a critique of the way messages are disseminated by local health and food justice organizations through media campaigns and community programs that heighten fears of fatness. Miami is centered as a cultural landscape that offers a unique lens for contributing a place-based approach to problematize assumptions, politics and discourses about bodies and health. Analysis of interviews with six organization representatives shows an overall emphasis on individually-targeted initiatives that detract from examining structural factors. This aligned with mainstream discourse, centering individual choice and responsibility at the heart of the purported problem of obesity. An ethnography of body size, where residents of Miami communities then speak to their own perspectives on these organizations and discourses, offers a unique approach showing how messages interact with lived experiences. As shown through analysis of interviews, the narratives of twenty women demonstrate their own concerns and thoughtfulness in making sense of the ubiquitous claims about obesity. My work clearly contributes to critical theoretical perspectives that engage with problems of the body, health, food studies and elements of gender, race and class across numerous disciplines. My project thus offers an important empirical case study analyzing the politics and organizational structure of specific initiatives, while taking account of residents’ lived experiences within an urban environment such as Miami. There is increasing focus in academic and policy work on concerns about fatness linked to the built environment, physical activity and food choice. Therefore, this multi-disciplinary approach underscores the complexities of embodied experiences of discourses, politics, body size, health and place.