The Harm Inflicted by Polite Concern: Language, Fat, and Stigma

Cindi SturtzSreetharan, Sarah Trainer, Alexandra Brewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Understanding language as a social action draws attention to the ways in which fat stigmatizing discourses do social harm. Drawing on interviews and experiences situated in Osaka, Japan and north Georgia, US, this paper looks closely at the ways in which fat stigma is expressed across the two sites, both blatantly and through more subtle language use. We identified four key themes in people’s narratives around localized ideas about fatness. These themes are: (1) expressed pity or concern for fat people; (2) reported experiences of indirect stigma in public settings; (3) reported experiences of direct stigma in private settings; and (4) robust and repeated associations between fat and other conditions that had locally relevant negative connotations in each site. We further identify the expressed concern and pity articulated in the first theme as a form of cloaked, “dressed up” stigma and as such, we argue that it enacts social harm, especially when it co-occurs with more blatant forms of stigma. Linguistic niceties around caring actually, at least in these contexts, reify symbolic connections between fat bodies and their social failure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)683-709
Number of pages27
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Fat
  • Japan
  • Language
  • Stigma
  • US

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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