Managing weight accountability in online discussion groups

P.W.J. Sneijder, S. Wiggins, H.F.M. te Molder

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


Losing weight is a problematic activity. By proclaiming to be concerned with weight loss, individuals become accountable for their actions on both moral and social levels. To be in the position of losing weight ¿ and especially for those involved in `slimming groups¿ such as Weight Watchers ¿ means that speakers must manage their own agency as simultaneously being in control, and not in control of their actions. On a moral level, they must deal with being positioned as `overweight¿ and its implications for one¿s eating behaviour and lifestyle choices. On a social level, they must also manage the dilemma of asking for help/support from others whilst also conceding that their problem is an individual one. We consider how these issues and dilemmas are dealt with in internet discussion groups. The data are taken from online message boards on the `Weight Watchers¿ website. Extracts were chosen where these related to individuals¿ accountability for being overweight or for `needing to¿ lose weight. A discursive psychological approach is used to examine how accountability is managed and oriented to by participants. For example, eating practices are often constructed as being uncontrollable, as an addiction. The `problem¿ may also be treated as being external to the individual (e.g. having a `problem with food¿), and responsibility is dealt with by removing agency from the self. The analysis details the ways in which accountability is constructed in the online messages, and also illustrates institutional features of weight talk in this setting: presenting oneself as a `good enough¿ Weight Watcher, giving advice to others, and `confessing¿ to eating that deviates from the Weight Watchers¿ programme. The findings highlight some of the practices by which one can manage accountability as someone who is claiming to want to lose weight. We conclude by referring to the discursive features surrounding weight talk in online discussions, and the implications of these for the participants, and for further research in this area
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Title of host publication9th International Pragmatics Conference 2005, Riva del Garda, Italy, 10-07-2005 t/m 15-07-2005
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

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