The Quantified Self, the ideology of health and fat

Woolley, Dawn ORCID logoORCID: (2023) The Quantified Self, the ideology of health and fat. In: The Body Productive: Rethinking capitalism, work and the body. Bloomsbury, London, pp. 137-156. ISBN 9780755639519


This chapter examines the Quantified Self movement and the ideology of health in relation to The Productive Body to consider the body as a site of both discipline and dissent. Robert Crawford describes how the ideology of health, or healthism, supports a neoliberal agenda by situating health and illness as the personal responsibility of the individual. This notion of ‘health’ enables individuals to make moral and ideological judgements about the bodies of others, masking the sexism, racism, classism, and ableism inherent in these judgements. The ideology of health also conceals health's relation to social inequality. For people with the financial resources, leisure is transformed into a form of body-labour that complements their economic function and compels them to purchase equipment and services that optimize their ‘bodily capital.’ In contrast to this, fat bodies, that are more likely to be identified as female, working-class, poor or ethnic minorities, are signifiers of lack of self-control and a poor work ethic. The Quantified Self movement exemplifies this process. It emerged with the development of wearable devices and apps designed to record detailed measurements relating to the users’ physical, psychological and social well-being. The movement is dominated by middle-class white men who have the time and financial resources to purchase and use tracking devices to optimise their bodies and minds. This chapter argues that this quantification creates ‘productive’ bodies and intensifies ideal neoliberal traits of competitiveness, individualism and self-control. It examines disordered eating behaviours as pathologies of quantification and considers eating for pleasure, rather than health and ‘fuel’, to be a potential disruption to the neoliberalisation of the body and its capacities.

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