Laura Backstrom is an assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University. As a microsociologist, her research examines the cultural meanings of bodies in social interaction, and she uses the body as a site to investigate the interplay of gender, sexuality, and deviance. In 2012, she published (along with co-authors Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Jennifer Puentes) an article in the Journal of Sex Research which explored how college women’s negotiation of oral sex varied by relationship context. Body size is also central to her research. In “From the Freak Show to the Living Room: Cultural Representations of Dwarfism and Obesity” (published in Sociological Forum), Backstrom used content analysis of reality television programs to examine how cultural representations of deviant bodies varied based on the historical legacy of stigmatized groups and contemporary cultural narratives of bodily difference. She found that the disparate presentations of extremes in height and weight in contemporary reality shows have remarkable parallels to their freak show predecessors. Specifically, contrasting dwarfism to obesity indicates how extreme shortness is constructed as a disability, whereas extreme body weight remains stigmatized.
Backstrom’s current research uses cultural, social psychological, and body theories to examine the processes through which people construct and interpret cultural meanings regarding childhood obesity. Using a combination of content analysis of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and ethnographic and interview data from a children’s weight loss camp, she analyzes how anti-obesity discourse creates embodied inequality and problematizes childhood. One forthcoming article from this project examines the content and processes of embodied resocialization at the weight loss camp and analyzes the tension between self-control and social control.
Backstrom, Laura. Forthcoming. “Embodied Resocialization at a Children’s Weight Loss Camp.” Ethnography.
Backstrom, Laura. 2012. “From the Freak Show to the Living Room: Cultural Representations of Dwarfism and Obesity.” Sociological Forum 27(3): 682-707.
Backstrom, Laura, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, and Jennifer Puentes. 2012. “Women’s Negotiation of Cunnilingus in College Hookups and Relationships.” Journal of Sex Research 49(1): 1-12.