Russell-Mayhew, S., Estefan, A., Moules, N.J., Lefebvre, D., Morhun, J.M., Saunders, J.F., Wong, K., Myre, M.
The optics of weight: expert perspectives from the panopticon and synopticon (2022) Psychology and Health
Objective: That we all weigh something is a fact of life, yet the material reality of weight is refracted through multiple layers of surveillance revealing contradictions in experience and understanding, depending on one’s vantage point. We explored the complexities of weight with the specific aim of furthering understanding of this multifaceted surveillance.
Methods and Measures: We used hermeneutics, the philosophy and practice of interpretation, as the method of inquiry. Ten experts by experience and seven professional experts participated in interviews, which were audio- recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Interpretations were developed through group discussions among the eight authors and reiterative writing.
Results: Using the metaphor of optics, we demonstrate how the interplay of the panopticon (the few watching the many) and synopticon (the many watching the few) help us gain a deeper understanding of weight through “fitting in,” being “captured by numbers,” “dieting: the tyrannic tower,” and “the male gaze.”
Conclusion: Monitoring and judging body weight have become so normative in Western society that “weight watching” practices are synonymous with good citizenship and moral character. This study offers insight about how weight is conceptualized in personal and professional contexts, with implications for body image, dieting, eating disorders, public health, and weight bias.
Foucault; Gadamer; hermeneutics; panopticon; synopticon; weight