The History and Present of Obesity


Obesity has been present since time immemorial and through different civilizations. Through different eras and civilizations in history, obesity meant different things and was interpreted differently. In some societies and civilizations, obesity was reviled, while in others, it was admired and even considered a status symbol (Sanaie & Mohammadinasab, 2021). There are different versions regarding the history of obesity, and one of them starts with sculptures of obese women. The most renowned of these sculptures was called the Venus of Willendorf that dates back to about 25,000 BC. The Venus of Willendorf is a statue of a faceless and obese woman who has a voluptuous bust, an elaborate hairstyle, large curvaceous thighs, a vulva that is enlarged, and a rotund abdomen (de la Peña Salcedo et al., 2021). There have been similar relics from the same period that have been discovered.

These obese sculptures point to the sculptures of the time sculpting inspired by obese women in their societies. In the present day, obesity is considered a severe health condition that makes the obese individual susceptible to several life-threatening conditions. However, there are still certain societies that consider obesity as a status symbol that means someone is wealthy. In some cultures, in the Caribbean, obesity in women is considered a sign of health and fertility. In other cultures, in Africa, obesity is associated with wealth and power (Sanaie & Mohammadinasab, 2021). In countries that have been ravaged by malnutrition, obesity is generally considered a sign of good health. In the West, obesity is not considered admirable, and people put much effort into working out and stay in shape.

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The Feminist View of Obesity

Most feminists see obesity or being fat as a feminist issue and for very different reasons. In the United States, being fat is generally associated with stress, compulsive eating, and underlying health issues. It is an opinion that most feminists hold that obesity is a form of gendered anguish, and women who are obese suffer the conditions listed. Other feminists also believe that being fat is a female issue because most obese women are susceptible to bias (MacKay 2017). There is another school of thought from feminists who believe that the fear of being obese than women have is how they subject themselves to the tyranny of expectations from a patriarchal society. Feminists also argue that an obese woman will face more ridicule from society than an obese man. Regardless of the school of thought, it is generally agreed that women tend to emphasize staying in shape for varied reasons.

The Functionalist Perspective of Obesity

Functionalists opine that obesity is an issue that is caused by the lack of organization in society and a failure of systems. According to the functionalist, obesity is also caused by the now established social pathology (Dempsey, 2017). Functionalists believe that every part of the society is interconnected and that instability in one part of the society could lead to an eating disorder and subsequent obesity in a member in a different part of the society. The functionalist also believes that good health is vital in the productivity of an individual. The implication here is that an obese society suffers from low productivity, which negatively affects other areas in society.

If many people in society are obese, they are not healthy, which impacts their ability to function, and by extension, society’s ability to function. The functionalist perspective goes further to say that when a society has obese individuals whose ability to be productive, and function is hampered. Then there is a poor return on the investment the society made in them (Dempsey, 2017). The investment here refers to the cost of pregnancy, birth, socialization, and childcare. In case the individual dies from obesity-related complications, then that return is even poorer.

The Conflict Perspective of Obesity

On the other hand, a conflict theorist views obesity as a conflict of goals within an individual. The conflicting goal here would be the pleasure of eating and enjoying all types of food and satisfying different dietary cravings versus the goals of controlling weight and keeping in good shape. According to the conflict theory, obesity can result from the inequality in society that relates to race, class, and ethnicity (Dempsey, 2017). For example, an individual may not be able to access gym services because of being sidelined by economic policies and becoming obese. Conflict theorists also disagree with physicians’ control over medicine that makes them define social problems as medical issues.

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To the conflict theorist, obesity is more of a social than a medical problem. According to the conflict theory, health physicians who encourage obese people to seek medical interventions believe that they stand to gain financially if as many social problems are characterized as medical problems (Dempsey, 2017). Conflict theorists point to how the medical establishments have strongly criticized the use of alternative medicine in managing obesity. They believe that this criticism stems from the fact that medical professionals feel they may lose relevance and the financial gain if obese people pursue alternative medicine to manage their conditions.


de la Peña Salcedo, J. A., & Gallardo, G. J. (2021). History of Gluteal Fat Grafting. Gluteal Fat Augmentation: Best Practices in Brazilian Butt Lift, 3-8.

Dempsey, H. L. (2017). A comparison of the social-adaptive perspective and functionalist perspective on guilt and shame. Behavioral Sciences, 7(4), 83.

MacKay, K. (2017). A feminist analysis of anti-obesity campaigns: manipulation, oppression, and autonomy. IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 10(2), 61-78.

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Sanaie, S., & Mohammadinasab, R. (2021). Relationship between obesity and gout: An ancient Persian case report. Obesity Medicine, 21, 100310.

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