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The study was conducted to explore what it is like for individuals and family members to live with obesity as a chronic illness. An interpretive phenomenological design was used to obtain and analyze interviews of 13 obese individuals and 5 of their family members. A convenience sample was used to recruit the subjects who participated in the audiotaped interviews. The interviews used open-ended questions. Audiotapes were transcribed and analyzed for identifying the major themes within each transcript, and patterns of meaning across narratives. The major themes and patterns were described through written essays and group discussions about the transcripts. The participants revealed frequent experiences of stigmatization and discrimination on the basis of their obesity. Those who are obese are reminded through their everyday encounters with family members, peers, healthcare providers, and strangers, that their being deviates from social norms, and that they are inferior to those who are not obese. Obese subjects experience a pattern of denigration and condemnation that is so pervasive as to constitute what Harvey has called civilized oppression. A discussion of the social construction of obesity and the elements of civilized oppression, as they are experienced by those who are obese, offers new insights into interpersonal relationships that can provide a foundation for more effective care of the obese population.
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