The Body-Mass-Index as a shifting technology of responsibilization

Authors: Carly Nichols*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development
Topics: Gender, Medical and Health Geography, Development
Keywords: feminist theory, neoliberalism, bodies, global health
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Chairman's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The body mass index, which measures body mass divided by a square of height (kg/m2), has become a popular technology for quickly measuring and assessing individuals’ health and disease risk. Recent data suggests that globally about 50% of the population either has a BMI that is ‘too high’ (overweight) or ‘too low’ (underweight), and thus substantial health promotion efforts are levied to coach individuals on maintaining a healthy weight. The BMI has been widely criticized by health professionals who argue that it’s a poor measure of health. Feminist geographers are also critical, arguing BMI is a technology of neoliberal health promotion that pathologizes body size, producing responsiblized subjects invested in maintaining proper body spatialties, and often ignoring the social and environmental conditions that result in differently sized bodies. In this paper I look at a series of ‘BMI camps’ held across rural North India in 2017 and argue that BMI is not an a priori technology of neoliberal governmentality, but can be a powerful means to highlight social marginalization and create new communities of care. Yet, the effects of technologies cannot be predetermined, and I find that the spaces of BMI deployment are tightly linked to the types of responsibility and care it produces. I conclude that viewing the body as an accumulated site of (neo)colonial dispossession highlights that responsibility for health is distributed across space and time and that this embodied understanding can serve as a platform for an emancipatory politics.

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