Tag Archives: body

‘Feeling Fat’: Understanding Experiences of Body Size

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month, model Charli Howard spoke out about the “ridiculously, unobtainable beauty standards” in the modelling industry. The size 6 model, weighing 7.5 stone, was told by her agency she was “too fat”. To put this irrationality into context, the average female in the UK weighs 11 stone and is a size 14-16! Whilst the modelling industry promotes their deluded ideals of body size, more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, the majority of whom are females aged 15-25. It’s not just the modelling industry, however; billboards, films, and magazines constantly bombard us with images of tall, slender, ‘perfect’ bodies. It is clear that body size is a serious concern; although two thirds of the UK’s population are allegedly overweight, almost just as many try dieting each year, and the majority of people, particularly females, are unhappy with the way they look.

Body size is not a new area of research in geography, but approaches to studying it are changing. Lloyd and Hopkins’ (2015) recent article in Area considers the ways in which geographers are approaching body size as an inherently geographical phenomenon. Formerly, qualitative methods have dominated this area of research, producing disembodied accounts that tried to quantify the body. Geographers have used rudimentary statistics such as BMI and waist-to-hip ratio in order to map obesity, but this has produced crude links between population statistics and demographic information. Such deterministic understandings of human health based on body size wrongly assume a separation between the mind and the body.

Qualitative approaches – such as interviews, focus groups, and diaries – on the other hand, reveal the lived realities of body size; the feelings, emotions, and embodied experiences of living with our bodies. Body size is, after all, experienced in multiple ways; emotionally, physically, economically, socially, privately, and publicly.

Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) argue that geographical studies of body size have often overlooked the role of emotions. The embodied subjectivities of people – the ways in which our bodies affect our identities – can only be understood by uncovering the private emotional experiences of body size, as well as its public performance. There is a difference between being overweight and feeling overweight; so many people are unhappy with their body size, weight, proportions, and appearance, regardless of whether they are physically ‘overweight’. The subjective, emotionally-loaded nature of the term ‘overweight’ means many people believe themselves to fit into this category even if they are perfectly healthy. This is an issue facing many people in the UK with eating disorders and those who hate the way they look. So pertinent is this problem, that earlier this year a petition with more than 26,000 signatures was successful in forcing Facebook to remove its ‘feeling fat’ emoji, protesters arguing “fat is not a feeling!”

A lot of how we experience our bodies is, as Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) claim, to do with societal norms and the stigma associated with being ‘overweight’. The cultural and social benefits associated with body size have become part of our everyday, and have been coined ‘thin privilege’; being a smaller size affords many benefits, such as being able to buy designer clothes, feeling comfortable in public places, or avoiding being bullied at school. The modelling industry in the UK is, without doubt, upholding worryingly distorted images of body size. In the modelling world, women’s ‘plus-size’ begins at UK size 10, which is at least one size smaller than the average woman, and is three sizes smaller than the smallest plus-size clothes sold in shops.

There is, however, some headway being made. MPs this September, led by Caroline Nokes, started to consider the need to ban super skinny models on British catwalks, following a petition, 30,000 signatures strong, to introduce health checks during London’s Fashion Week. The petition was started by Rosie Nelson, a size 8 model. Regular health checks would protect young models who, like Charli and Rosie, are undoubtedly pressured to attain unreasonably small body sizes.

Furthermore, in September this year, London hosted ‘Plus Size Fashion Week’, a celebration of women with curves. Such an event is a real step forward in trying to dispel the physical and emotional othering of plus-size women. An article in The Guardian told the ‘confessions of a plus sized model’, Olivia Campbell, a UK size 18-20 model. Speaking of how she had vastly improved in self-confidence, she wisely states; “you cannot determine a person’s health just by looking at them”. Whilst plus size modelling is growing in the UK, there is a lack of plus-size male models. We shouldn’t forget that, whilst a lot of media attention has focused on women, men also suffer from anxiety about the way they look.

Body size is, then, a contentious topic and a real-life concern. By turning to qualitative methods, geographers can contribute to understandings of the ways in which people experience body size. However, as Lloyd and Hopkins (2015) point out, the stigma associated with being ‘overweight’ means research on body size is fraught with methodological obstacles, most notably participant recruitment. Furthermore, the inherently emotional and subjective nature of body size, as well as the researcher’s own body size, can have significant impacts on research findings.

Our bodies – and our understandings of them – are mutable, changing over space and time, and dependent upon similarly fluid social norms. Body-shaming is all too common in today’s society. The sooner the stigma is removed, and the sooner the social, emotional, and physical othering of people based on their bodies is eradicated, the sooner we can start to improve our understanding of bodily experience.

books_iconLloyd, J. and Hopkins, P. (2015). “Using interviews to research body size: methodological and ethical considerations”, Area, 47(3):305-310.


Howard C 2015 Size 6 model: ‘Why I told my agency to f*** off for calling me fat’ The Telegraph


Sanghani Radhika 2015 Facebook removes its ‘feeling fat’ emoji after thousands complain The Telegraph

60-world2Elgot J 2015 Body image: MPs to consider ban on ultra-thin catwalk models The Guardian

60-world2Marriott H 2015 Plus size fashion week: confessions of a plus sized model The Guardian

60-world2Ferrier M 2015 Where are all the plus-size male models?  The Guardian

A Real Game Changer: The Use of GPS Tracking Devices in English Football

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Is the use of GPS in football a good thing? Photograph: Kate Whiston

Is the use of GPS trackers in football a good thing?
Photograph: Kate Whiston

Last month the use of GPS tracking in football came under scrutiny, following a seven-minute delay in a League Two game. In the interests of player safety, Plymouth manager, Derek Adams, complained about the devices worn by the Wycombe team as they lined up in the tunnel. The device, worn between the shoulder blades underneath the shirt, is surrounded by padding, although it is debatable whether this padding is designed to protect the GPS tracker or the player! An article in The Guardian (2015) quoted the Plymouth Manger: “it’s a hard object and a dangerous bit of equipment”. However, after consulting the rules and regulations, the matter was resolved; FIFA ruling permits players to wear GPS trackers – official termed Electronic Performance and Tracking System (EPTS) – during matches and, this season, the Football League has also sanctioned their use. There are currently 19 English Football League clubs registered to use these devices.

So why are GPS trackers being used in football? Has sports science turned into Big Brother?

Tracking devices have been used by football clubs, behind the scenes, for some time, but have only recently been used in competitive matches. In this sense, football is lagging behind rugby, which has long used such devices to monitor player performance and health. Speaking to the BBC, Wycombe midfielder, Matt Bloomfield (2015), explained the importance of GPS tracking devices in football. Electronic Performance and Tracking System (EPTS) devices track each individual player’s every move on the pitch and can provide a wealth of data about the player; how far they have run, how many sprints they have completed, their position on the pitch over time, their heart rate over time, and how much work their body has done. The feedback players get after each game, Bloomfield (2015) states, is then used in training sessions to recreate the number of sprints or distance covered in games. This is certainly one way to decrease the number of players deemed ‘not match-fit’. Furthermore, Bloomfield (2015) stresses the importance of EPTS devices in monitoring players’ well-being, as their stats can highlight when they are fatigued and, therefore, more susceptible to injury. Thus, prevention of niggling injuries is another major benefit.

The use of GPS in football redefines the space of the football pitch. Understanding the ways in which footballers use the space is every sports geographer’s dream. The data collected by the devices can be used to map players’ use of space and track the flows of their movement throughout space. This is not dissimilar to the use of Geographical Information Science (GIS) to map and monitor transportation systems. In this further example of mapping mobile subjects – although admittedly on a much larger scale than the football pitch – data about transport is used to map and analyse the spatial networks within which interactions occur, showing the routes and flows of movement (Miller and Shaw, 2015). Miller (2007) recommends a ‘people-based’ approach to GIS, rather than the traditional ‘place-based’ approach. The increasing mobility and connectivity of people means that the relationships between people and places are becoming more complex. Mapping the “individual in space and time”, Miller (2007:503) argues, provides a more complete analysis of our interactions with space. The theory behind this approach has its roots in 1960s ‘time geography’, which considers the dynamic use of space in human activity, the constraints and fluidity of these activities, and the temporal aspects of them. From this we have evolved location-aware technologies, which collect space-time activity data in real time, such as global positioning systems (GPS) and radiofrequency identification (RFID). The use of location based services (LBS) has become ubiquitous in everyday life; social networking, parcel tracking, and Google Maps all use locational data to provide us with real-time information about what is around us. Locational privacy is a thing of the past, as our movements across space and time are constantly being logged. It is, therefore, not surprising that technology is now being used to track the individual movement of athletes in sport.

The use of GPS trackers in football can certainly give teams a competitive edge and reassure fans that their favourite players will be in top condition. They are useful ways to track movements on the pitch and the ways in which the space is used, as well as monitoring players’ health and fitness. There is, however, another implication that I’d like to propose to you; these GPS trackers are re-defining footballers’ bodies. Tailoring training and recovery to individual players’ needs, whilst not new, has taken a massive step with the use of tracking technology. No longer the achievement of individual skill and managers’ tactics, football teams are being moulded around quantitative observations of individual players’ movements and bodily responses. The goalposts have been moved, and expectations of players’ performances and capabilities are being raised accordingly. Footballers’ bodies and performances are becoming hybrid collaborations between player and machine. Thus, it seems, even in the beautiful game, we cannot escape the pervasiveness of computers in modern society and the ever-diminishing distinction between humans and technology.


books_iconMiller, H. (2007). “Place-Based versus People-Based Geographic Information Science”, Geography Compass, 1(3):503-535.

books_iconMiller, H. and Shaw, S-L. (2015). “Geographic Information Systems for Transportation in the 21st Century”, Geography Compass, 9(4):180-189.

60-world2Bloomfield, M. (2015). “Matt Bloomfield explains why GPS tracking devices work”, BBC Sport Football Online. 16th September 2015. Available at:  www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/34267968

60-world2The Guardian (2015). “Football League supports Wycombe over GPS trackers under shirts”, The Guardian Online. 14th September 2015. Available at: www.theguardian.com/football/2015/sep/14/football-league-wycombe-plymouth-gps



London 2012 Paralympics – Spectatorship Through the Body

By Jen Turner

The opening week of the London 2012 Paralympic Games has witnessed an array of grit, determination, and World-Record-breaking sport from competitors across the globe.  As I write, Paralympic Team GB are in possession of 19 Gold medals, lying second in the table with 62 medals overall.  With 80,000 spectators at the Opening Ceremony and a predicted 215,000 per day entering Olympic Park, the Paralympics have been as successful in attracting a crowd as the Olympics themselves.  In a BBC report, London’s transport commissioner Peter Hendy said: “We already know the London 2012 Paralympic Games will see the most spectators in its history.”

However, the visual terminology concerning those who come to ‘see’ events has left a sour taste in the mouth of some disabled visitors to the games – a little at odds when we consider the kinds of athletes the Paralympics caters for.  Damon Rose’s BBC blog focuses on the limited commentary available for blind people, both at live events and on television.  Recounting his difficulty following the action at the blind person’s sport of goalball, he writes, “Oh, the irony that the only members of the crowd who can’t enjoy the blind football are those who can’t see”.  Interestingly, Rose also questions the appeal of goalball as a spectator sport for those who can see.  He explains that athletes rely on the sounds of other players and the bell in the ball.  With matches played in silence, the much praised London crowd might find the experience forces them to develop an unusual awareness of senses other than the visual.  However, as Rose discovered – for some, this merely allows the marvel of the Paralympic athletes to resonate.  “I thought the silence was amazing and it was fascinating the way the athletes felt their way across the court,” says Sue Lee, a retired teacher from Chelmsford.

A geographical focus on the sensory experience is provided by Longhurst, Ho and Johnston in their (2008) Area article. Focusing upon how different bodily experiences shape interactions with people and places, the article raises the importance of the body as a research tool.   As the human body is the primary vehicle through which all emotions and worldly interactions occur, its significance in generating and shaping meaningful interactions with place is great.  Thinking about this in relation to the Paralympic Games, how far will the sensory requirements portrayed by the athletes themselves impact upon the able-bodied spectator experience.  What is there to be learned from these alternative bodily experiences?

Longhurst, R., Ho, E. and Johnston, L., (2008) Using ‘the body’ as an ‘instrument of research’: kimch’i and pavlova, Area, 40.2, 208–217

Commuters urged to prepare for Paralympic Games, BBC News, 21 Aug 2012

Blind man watching goalball – silence please, BBC – The Ouch! Blog, 31 Aug 2012

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (16th June 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Visualising postcode data for urban analysis and planning: the Amsterdam City Monitor
Karin Pfeffer, Marinus C Deurloo and Els M Veldhuizen
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01096.x

Changing countries, changing climates: achieving thermal comfort through adaptation in everyday activities
Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01105.x

Rethinking community and public space from the margins: a study of community libraries in Bangalore’s slums
Ajit K Pyati and Ahmad M Kamal
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01100.x

Practising workplace geographies: embodied labour as method in human geography
Chris McMorran
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01101.x

Original Articles

Muslim geographies, violence and the antinomies of community in eastern Sri Lanka
Shahul Hasbullah and Benedikt Korf
Article first published online: 11 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00470.x

Characterising urban sprawl on a local scale with accessibility measures
Jungyul Sohn, Songhyun Choi, Rebecca Lewis and Gerrit Knaap
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00468.x

The geodemographics of access and participation in Geography
Alex D Singleton
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00467.x

Original Articles

Towards geographies of ‘alternative’ education: a case study of UK home schooling families
Peter Kraftl
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00536.x

Boundary Crossings

Geographies of environmental restoration: a human geography critique of restored nature
Laura Smith
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00537.x

A policymaker’s puzzle, or how to cross the boundary from agent-based model to land-use policymaking?
Nick Green
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00532.x