“Haram, she’s obese!” Young Lebanese-Canadian Women’s Discursive Constructions of “Obesity”

  • Zeina Abou-Rizk University of Ottawa
  • Geneviève Rail Concordia University
Keywords: women, fatness, discourse, obesity, health, Lebanese-Canadian, identity, culture


Using feminist poststructuralist and postcolonial lenses, we explore how young Lebanese-Canadian women construct “obesity” within the context of the current and dramatic hype about “obesity” and its impacts on the health of individuals and populations. Participant-centered conversations were held with twenty young Lebanese-Canadian women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. In examining what discourses the participants adopted, negotiated, and/or resisted when discussing “obesity,” we found that the young women constructed it as a problematic health issue and a disease, as a matter of lack of discipline, and as an “abnormal” physical attribute. They also expressed feelings of disgust and/or pity toward “obese” women by using the Arabic term “haram” (what a shame or poor her). While the participants emphasized that Lebanese and Lebanese-Canadian cultures prize physical appearance and “not being fat,” they also attempted to dissociate themselves from “Lebanese” ways of thinking and, in doing so, reproduced a number of stereotypes about Lebanese, Lebanese-Canadian, and Canadian women.

Selon un point de vue féministe poststructural et postcolonial, nous explorons comment les jeunes femmes libano-canadiennes perçoivent l’obésité dans le contexte du battage médiatique actuel et dramatique à ce sujet et de son impact sur la santé des gens et des populations. Des conversations axées sur les participantes ont eu lieu avec vingt jeunes femmes libano-canadiennes âgées de dix-huit à vingt-cinq ans. En examinant les discours que les participantes ont adoptés, négociés ou évités pendant les discussions sur l’obésité, nous avons conclu que les jeunes femmes perçoivent l’obésité comme un problème de santé et une maladie, un manque de discipline et une caractéristique physique « anormale ». Elles ont aussi exprimé des sentiments de dégoût ou de pitié envers les femmes « obèses » en utilisant le terme arabe « haram » (qui signifie « quelle honte » ou « pauvre elle »). Bien qu’elles aient insisté sur le fait que la culture libanaise ou libano-canadienne valorise l’apparence physique « non obèse », elles ont aussi tenté de s’éloigner des points de vue « libanais » et, ce faisant, ont reproduit certains stéréotypes au sujet des femmes libanaises, libano-canadiennes et canadiennes.

Author Biographies

Zeina Abou-Rizk, University of Ottawa
Zeina Abou-Rizk, Ph.D. teaches within variousschools and faculties at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. Herdoctoral research was mainly related to young Lebanese-Canadian women’sconstructions of health, obesity, and the body within the current context ofthe dominant obesity discourse. Atthe present, she is starting to collect qualitative materials for a researchproject on young Lebanese and Lebanese-Canadian women’s motives for cosmeticsurgery and discursive constructions of beauty.
Geneviève Rail, Concordia University
Geneviève Rail, Ph.D., is Professor andPrincipal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University. Bestknown as a feminist critic of body-related institutions (e.g., sport, media,“health” industries and systems), she favors feminist cultural studies,poststructuralist, postcolonial and queer approaches. She is currently involvedin CIHR- and SSHRC-funded research projects focusing on women’s discursiveconstructions of the body, fatness and health.


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