Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

Cindi Sturtz Sreetharan received her PhD in linguistic anthropology from UC Davis. After teaching for 12 years at CSU
Sacramento, in 2015, she joined SHESC at ASU, teaching in the Anthropology and Global Health programs. She
has received funding from the National Science Foundation, KCCJEE, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science,
and the Japan Foundation for her work on issues relating to Japanese language, gender, and dialect.
Sturtz Sreetharan’s work on Japanese language and gender is novel because of its focus on men and non- Tokyo
language varieties. Her keen interest in the Osaka variety of Japanese showcases the ways in which language
varieties can be mediatiz ed and commodified to signal new social meanings.
Recently Sturtz Sreetharan has been working at the intersection of masculinity, obesity, and stigma in both US and
Japan contexts. Her work with post- bariatric men’s narratives has demonstrated the ways in which close attention to
food choices and consumption techniques becomes a signal of moral goodness. Most recently she has been
working on a cross cultural ethnographic analysis of the lived experience of women and weight in Japan, Samoa,
Paraguay, and the US. This work has made clear that (married) Japanese women bear a strong burden of obesity
and overweight especially with regard to managing the household waistline. Next, she aims to learn more about
how US and Japanese men’s lives are impacted by and how they experience fat and overweight. She is particularly
interested in the role that health policy plays in felt stigma around obesity and overweight.

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Associate Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University
Obesity anxieties: Comparing the lived experience of weight-related policy for Japanese and US men

Obesity rates are on the rise globally. Sentiment around obesity is shifting from positive associations of health and wealth to negative associations of laziness and a lack of self-control. Health policies meant to address obesity are designed and developed by public health experts who may not recognize the effect the policies have on the emotional well-being of individual laypeople including depression and social exclusion. Simultaneously, social messages address issues of health and size. While public health policies address overweight and obesity, social messaging around health tends to focus on a thin ideal. The ways in which Japan and the US approach public health policies around obesity present a valuable opportunity to ask: How do explicit health policies, in comparison to implicit policies contribute to fat shaming and fat stigma? Using qualitative ethnographic methods, this research will characterize the lived experience of fat in Japan versus the US with specific focus on Japanese and US men. Does the mandated Japanese annual health exam (metaborikku shōkōkun kenkō shinsa) contribute to worsening fat stigma because it is explicit, or does implicit messaging from health agencies in the US appear to have a similar effect? Despite long-standing efforts at reducing the rates of obesity in Japan and the US, both countries continue to see weight increases, especially among men (30.7% in Japan and 73.7% in the US). Experts may perceive a lack of exercise and poor diet to be the main cause of these increasing rates, while laypeople may explain their increasing waistline through narratives of a lack of discipline or stress. Increasingly, scholars are investigating the role of emotional health and the role it plays in weight, finding that shame and stigma around weight can have the opposite effects on people trying to reduce or maintain their weight. That is, fat shame and stigma can lead to weight gains, rather than reductions. This research moves beyond thinking about diet and exercise and instead focuses on the ways that explicit and implicit health policies may contribute to weight gain by encouraging and enforcing strict body vigilance which can be internalized as anti-fat sentiment or fat stigma putting people at risk for social exclusion. A focus on Japanese and US men is significant given their lack of representation in qualitative research on topics of weight and stigma. Ethnographic methods and qualitative analyses have been widely used to study lived experiences of highly personal and often sensitive topics. Participant observation combined with semi-structured interviews can elucidate how people characterize and organize their experiences of fat, health policy, and stigma. The semi-structured interview will probe along five domains including (1) food and eating; (2) body ideals, body capital, and bodies in society; (3) disease and health of large bodies; (4) health policy; and (5) body concerns and stigma. Narrative and thematic analyses will identify the particular and shared experiences and sentiments within and across sites. We will gain fundamental understandings into the ways that explicit and implicit health policies impact men's lives in Japan and the US.