jpeter: (boing boing boing)
[personal profile] jpeter
As an aspiring public health student at _______, I am fascinated by the reciprocal relationship between bodies and selves on the one hand, and world-building social practices on the other. While conducting research for a graduate seminar on theories of sex and gender at The University of Chicago, I came across three intriguing international queer subcultural formations: Bears (a subculture of hirsute heavyset men), Chubs (heavyset to severely obese men), and Gainers (men into erotic weight gain) respectively. These three groups, though different in many ways, are bound by a common thread: they locate as the object of erotic desire a large male body, a corporeal form marked by recognizable excess. For these prying eyes, size matters: bigger is almost always better.

What strikes me most about these three subcultures is that they fetishize bodily norms which fly in the face of the medical community’s prescriptive denominations of healthy weight and height. In the context of these three groups, a perverse queer sexual desire has engendered life-worlds in which excessive size is synonymous with sexual attractiveness. But what does this mean in an era where obesity has become a global pandemic, by some accounts the greatest public health crisis of our time? What does it mean when a surplus of size consigns to so many the risk of wearing out prematurely, whether by cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, or countless other ailments correlated with obesity? How do we make sense of such groups who have effectively built thriving subcultures embracing what cultural theorist Lauren Berlant describes as slow death, the gradual wearing out of a population in the service of our late modern era’s relentless march forward? I am reminded that the trauma of AIDS still looms large both historically and materially – is still lived and felt in the present in myriad enigmatic ways, informing our senses of who we have been, who we are and, perhaps more importantly, how we feel about our selves and our bodies. This leads me to ask, what can these and other sexual populations tell us about our relationship to our bodies and selves at this historical moment? Would we be right to simply pathologize the not-nearly-normal, writing them off as mere oddities? Or might we apprehend instead a call to complicate our understanding of sexuality, culture and its peculiar twists and turns, to interrogate and perhaps reformulate how we think about “mental health”, “physical health,” our bodies and sexual desires, along with the consumptive and expressive practices that bind us all?

I have foregrounded this project here not because I feel it is viable (indeed I suspect to veteran eyes it may seem either overambitious or of limited practical value.) Rather, I wanted to give you a sense of the types of things I notice, and the types of questions I am inclined to ask as a former humanities graduate student now attempting to transition to a career in public health. Though new to the field, I am guided by an aim to bring more abstract notions of selfhood and sociality into productive dialogue with the more empirical discourses of mental and physical health. I aim to study sociomedical sciences with a certificate emphasis on the social determinants of health, in order to understand how health is constructed by the reciprocity of sociality and structure, and more importantly to learn how to stage productive interventions. I am particularly interested in finding ways to combat obesity within urban underprivileged minority populations, though I am also interested owing to my background in both HIV/drug prevention strategies and in addressing domestic violence and mental illness in immigrant communities.

Date: 2013-08-12 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Date: 2013-08-12 08:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
oh, so there's at least some precedent/awareness in the scientific community. that's a relief


jpeter: (Default)

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