A feminist relational discourse analysis of mothers’ voiced accounts of the ‘duty to protect’ children from fatness and fatphobia

Sarah Gillborn, Bridgette Rickett, Maxine Woolhouse

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    Research has highlighted damaging contradictions in the responsibilisation of mothers over children's health, at once held responsible for tackling “childhood obesity” while being cautious not to encourage children to become obsessive with their bodies. While research has highlighted discourses of blame and elucidated mothers’ experiences, less is known about how mothers negotiate discourse in their voiced accounts. Utilising Feminist Relational Discourse Analysis, this study analysed interviews with 12 mothers in England to explore their experiences of a nationally mandated BMI screening programme in schools and how discourses shape their voices and experiences. In negotiating complex and contradictory discourses of motherhood and fatness, participants expressed a “duty to protect” their children from both fatness and fatphobia. Negotiating these responsibilities left mothers feeling guilt at their personal “failure” to protect their children from one or both harms. Mothers did not take up these discourses unproblematically; they resisted them, yet felt constrained by “expert knowledges” of fatness and motherhood that had clear consequences in responsibilising mothers for the “harm” of fatness. This analysis calls attention to how dominant discourses function personally and politically to responsibilise mothers for the harm caused by state-sanctioned fatphobia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)224-245
    Number of pages22
    JournalFeminism and Psychology
    Issue number2
    Early online date16 Feb 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © The Author(s) 2022.


    • Articles
    • England
    • discourse analysis
    • fatphobia
    • mother blame
    • voice


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