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 recent article in Ethnography examined the content and processes of embodied resocialization at a children’s weight loss camp. She is currently working on a book project entitled, Weighty Problems: Negotiating Embodied Inequality at a Children’s Weight Loss Camp (under contract at Rutgers University Press) which uses ethnographic and interview data from a children’s weight loss camp to examine how children at a weight loss camp negotiate the cultural meanings surrounding obesity and how they experience embodied inequality firsthand. Each chapter examines a specific social psychological dimension of embodied inequality and self-problematization including social comparisons, stigma management, resocialization, attribution, and family support dynamics. By examining why the children decided to participate in a weight loss camp in addition to their experiences at camp, this book provides an up-close account of the everyday, lived experience of children who view their bodies as problems and seek weight loss.
Backstrom, Laura. 2016. “Embodied Resocialization at a Children’s Weight Loss Camp.” Ethnography 17(4) 539–558.
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.