About right. Body size management among normal weight and moderately overweight people

PhD defence

Nina Konstantin Nissen


The aim of this PhD thesis is, from an insider’s perspective, to understand body size management among normal weight and moderately overweight people. It focuses on body size ideals as wells as practices undertaken to monitor, maintain or change body size.
In a systematic literature review, previous research is scrutinized. In general, the reviewed studies find that normal weight and moderately overweight people are concerned with their weight and shape, and huge discrepancies are found between their ideal size and current size as well as be-tween their own perceptions versus study categorizations of their bodies. Normal weight and mod-erately overweight people actively engage in managing their weight and shape as dieting and exer-cise are widespread. Notable socio-demographic variations in perceptions and practices are identi-fied. However, the research field is limited and scattered, and methodological problems are present.

Empirically, the thesis is based on in-depth interviews and some observation of people with a BMI of 18.5-29.9 from various social backgrounds. Inductive coding has been conducted, and gov-ernmentality theory has inspired the analysis. It has been found that normal weight and moderately overweight people have clear ideals for their body size, and they construct a variety of practices to monitor their bodies, based on calculations of weight, observations of body shape and senses of bodily firmness. Further, normal weight and moderately overweight people are deeply involved in maintaining or changing the size of their bodies. Feelings of personal responsibility are strong, and they wish to control body size and consider that they have adequate knowledge to do so. Through multiple practices, they make efforts to manage their body size, which is influenced by everyday life challenges as well as major life events. Normal weight and moderately overweight people conform to a high degree with health authority guidelines, but they also creatively undertake concretized and transformed versions of these, and go beyond them. The thesis discusses how regulation influences individuals’ self-regulation, and whether the general focus on body size and obesity in society may create a problem for people who, in a medical sense, do not really have one.


Lotte Holm, Professor, IFRO, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Charlotte Baarts, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Assesment Committee

Jesper Lassen, Professor, IFRO, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Johanna Mäkalä, Professor.

Christian Stenbak Larsen, Associate Professor, Metropolitan University College, Denmark