Title: How to get plump, or why do we choose what we choose?
Back in the late 1800s advertisements were made for a dietary supplement called Fat-ten-U food, which guaranteed to “make the thin plump and rosy with honest fleshiness of form”. By the beginning of the 21st century, an international company called Prescan illustrates its website with witnesses from celebrities to seduce us for a total body scan which “allows you to gain insight into your health. During this examination the vital organs and blood vessels are examined. In order to obtain the best possible picture of your body, we include the Preventive Cardio Package with our Total Body Scan.”
In between these two remarkable ads, the health discourse has changed dramatically. Fitness and no longer fatness is the objective and the pressure to live our lives along certain patterns and paths is unmistakably high. The interesting thing is, there is no Uncle Sam pointing his finger at us, and yet, in one way or another, we agree there is something wrong with us if we don’t care for our health and body or we plead guilty if we don’t do any kind of physical activity.
With concepts like ‘governmentality’, ‘pastoral power’ or ‘population’, in his later lectures on biopolitics, Michel Foucault attempted to conceive the question how the care for public health became indeed a central task and for politics and for all of us. Health is not only on the political agenda of many governments (governmentality), it’s presence runs as an bioimperative through the whole of society. It appeals to all of us (a totalizing technique) and to each one of us (individualized). There is obviously something wrong with us (pastoral power) if we don’t obey the imperative.
I apply his analysis to the contemporary discourse on health promotion, the growing interest of the government and insurance companies in our daily activities and their attempt to interfere in it. Analysing the case of obesity, I will explore how the discourse on patient empowerment is actually the ethico-medical way through which people are governed. Far from a neutral plead, patient empowerment puts the individual responsibility for our health right at the centre of today’s medical discourse. Being unhealthy has become the synonym for not having done enough.
It is therefore no coincidence that today, public health, especially in industrialised countries, has also become a question of having no longer access to the health insurance due to ‘bad behaviour’, of being excluded from health facilities, of food industry trying to get a grip on our food habits and tastes with food supplements, etcetera. What we are dealing with today – public health as an explicit task of contemporary politics – not only can be understood as the culmination of an ongoing process of government of our daily life out of a medical perspective; it is also an implicit political evolution which needs to be made explicit, in order to understand the biopolitical ideology behind it.
Keywords: governmentality; Michel Foucault; health; fitness; lifestyle
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