'We’re kind of devolving': visual tropes of evolution in obesity discourse

White, F.R. 2013. 'We’re kind of devolving': visual tropes of evolution in obesity discourse. Critical Public Health. 23 (3), pp. 320-330.

Title'We’re kind of devolving': visual tropes of evolution in obesity discourse
AuthorsWhite, F.R.
Abstract

In recent years, analyses of mainstream media constructions of the obesity ‘epidemic’ have proliferated within fat studies. Of less attention has been the visual representation of obesity. This paper presents an analysis of one particular form of graphic representation of obesity, that of the ‘fat (d)evolution’ image. This image parodies the iconography of the ‘march of progress’ – a series of figures of ascending height illustrating the evolution of mankind from ape to modern man. The fat (d)evolution image features an additional fat figure (and in some cases a final stage represented by a pig) frequently of declining height, thereby visualising obesity as a ‘kind of’ devolution. The paper analyses a sample of 18 such images that have appeared on book covers, websites and in media reports. It explores the confluence of discourses that produce the images’ multiple meanings and locates them within narratives of evolution and the ‘obesogenic environment’. Given the often comedic intent of the images, the analysis subsequently discusses the function of this humour, before considering how the images’ construction of fatness is also underpinned by discourses of gender, race and class. The findings suggest that the rhetorical success of these images relies on a radical ‘othering’ which intensifies the dehumanisation of fatness.

JournalCritical Public Health
Journal citation23 (3), pp. 320-330
ISSN0958-1596
Year2013
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1080/09581596.2013.777693
Publication dates
Published2013

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