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The Fat Studies Reader

The Fat Studies Reader

Esther Rothblum
Sondra Solovay
FOREWORD BY Marilyn Wann
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 396
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg2bh
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  • Book Info
    The Fat Studies Reader
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in PsychologyWinner of the 2010 Susan Koppelman Award for the Best Edited Volume in Women's Studies from the Popular Culture AssociationWe have all seen the segments on television news shows: A fat person walking on the sidewalk, her face out of frame so she can't be identified, as some disconcerting findings about the "obesity epidemic" stalking the nation are read by a disembodied voice. And we have seen the movies - their obvious lack of large leading actors silently speaking volumes. From the government, health industry, diet industry, news media, and popular culture we hear that we should all be focused on our weight. But is this national obsession with weight and thinness good for us? Or is it just another form of prejudice - one with especially dire consequences for many already disenfranchised groups?For decades a growing cadre of scholars has been examining the role of body weight in society, critiquing the underlying assumptions, prejudices, and effects of how people perceive and relate to fatness. This burgeoning movement, known as fat studies, includes scholars from every field, as well as activists, artists, and intellectuals. The Fat Studies Reader is a milestone achievement, bringing together fifty-three diverse voices to explore a wide range of topics related to body weight. From the historical construction of fatness to public health policy, from job discrimination to social class disparities, from chick-lit to airline seats, this collection covers it all.Edited by two leaders in the field, The Fat Studies Reader is an invaluable resource that provides a historical overview of fat studies, an in-depth examination of the movement's fundamental concerns, and an up-to-date look at its innovative research.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7743-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword: Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
    Marilyn Wann

    As a new, interdisciplinary field of intellectual inquiry, fat studies is defined in part by what it is not.

    For example, if you believe that fat people could (and should) lose weight, then you are not doing fat studies—you are part of the $58.6 billion-per-year weight-loss industry or its vast customer base (Marketdata Enterprises, 2007).

    If you believe that being fat is a disease and that fat people cannot possibly enjoy good health or long life, then you are not doing fat studies. Instead, your approach is aligned with “obesity” researchers, bariatric surgeons, public health officials who declare “war...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Sondra Solovay and Esther Rothblum

    Isn’t it odd that people deeply divided on almost every important topic can so easily and seemingly organically agree on the above assertion? Isn’t it similarly strange that countries significantly divergent in culture, attitudes, and approaches apparently share the fat-is-bad sentiment? In fact, according to the popular media, one of the few disagreements that exists is which country is hardest hit by the so called “obesity epidemic.”

    Consider the following contradictory statements:

    “Somewhere along the way, [Americans have] supersized ourselves into becoming the fattest nation on earth” (MSNBC, 2003).

    “Australia has become the fattest nation in the world, with more...

  6. PART I WHAT IS FAT STUDIES?: THE SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONSTRUCTION OF FATNESS

    • 1 The Inner Corset: A Brief History of Fat in the United States
      (pp. 11-14)
      Laura Fraser

      Once upon a time, a man with a thick gold watch swaying from a big, round paunch was the very picture of American prosperity and vigor. Accordingly, a hundred years ago, a beautiful woman had plump cheeks and arms, and she wore a corset and even a bustle to emphasize her full, substantial hips. Women were sexy if they were heavy. In those days, Americans knew that a layer of fat was a sign that you could afford to eat well and that you stood a better chance of fighting off infectious diseases than most people. If you were a...

    • 2 Fattening Queer History: Where Does Fat History Go from Here?
      (pp. 15-22)
      Elena Levy-Navarro

      Until recently, fat studies has been largely dominated by an interest in contemporary politics of fatness. Although such work has been and continues to be important, other social justice movements teach us that we need to turn to history as well. The turn to history, if performed in a self-conscious way, can sustain a fat-positive movement even as it helps us to imagine, and thus to create, alternatives to what sometimes seems like an all-too-oppressive present. In this chapter, I draw on the field of queer historiography to suggest some of the ways that histories can work with fat activism...

  7. PART II FAT STUDIES IN HEALTH AND MEDICINE

    • 3 Does Social Class Explain the Connection Between Weight and Health?
      (pp. 25-36)
      Paul Ernsberger

      Adiposity is strongly related to socioeconomic status (SES) in modern Western societies (Sobal, 1991; Sobal & Stunkard, 1989). SES is usually measured by household income or years of education, although these two measures are clearly different and have many limitations as indices of social standing. In their seminal review in 1989, Sobal and Stunkard showed strong links between low social status and high body weight. This relationship only applied consistently to adult women in developed nations. For adult men, half the surveys showed the same trend as for women, but the remainder showed no relationship between SES and weight; in...

    • 4 Is “Permanent Weight Loss” an Oxymoron? The Statistics on Weight Loss and the National Weight Control Registry
      (pp. 37-41)
      Glenn Gaesser

      In view of the statistics on “obesity” and dieting in the United States, “permanent weight loss” might seem oxymoronic. Despite our collective efforts to lose weight, the average American continues to gain. For example, in 1991, the average U.S. man weighed 179 pounds, and the average woman weighed 143 pounds. In 1998, average weights for U.S. men and women were 186 pounds and 151 pounds, respectively (Mokdad et al., 1999). Prevalence of “obesity” among U.S. adults increased during the 1990s from approximately 23 percent at the beginning of the decade to 31 percent in 2000 (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, & Johnson,...

    • 5 What Is “Health at Every Size”?
      (pp. 42-53)
      Deb Burgard

      One of the most important inquiries within the new field of fat studies is the examination of the way that health issues have been used to oppress people of size. In a culture where there is at least some self-consciousness about the impoliteness of expressing blatant revulsion about fat, most people are quite willing to support the stereotype of fatness signifying ill health. Moreover, in contrast to other health concerns like cancer or flu epidemics, fat people are blamed for their health problems. The use of health concerns to convey disapproval and censure is a fascinating and disturbing phenomenon in...

    • 6 Widening the Dialogue to Narrow the Gap in Health Disparities: Approaches to Fat Black Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health Promotion
      (pp. 54-64)
      Bianca D. M. Wilson

      This poem, written by C.C. Carter, a contemporary Afro-Latina lesbian artist, deeply resonates with me. My personal experiences as a fat woman who participates in Black lesbian and bisexual women’s communities have shown me an appreciation for body diversity that is atypical of mainstream American culture. I use the term fat to refer to anyone who sees themselves as larger, heavier, or rounder than average, as well as to refer to the population of people who are categorized as “overweight” or “obese” according to medical guidelines (which change periodically). In a Black lesbian and bisexual women’s cultural context, we see...

    • 7 Quest for a Cause: The Fat Gene, the Gay Gene, and the New Eugenics
      (pp. 65-74)
      Kathleen LeBesco

      In the mid-1990s, newspaper headlines trumpeted research advances in discovering both a “gay gene” and a “fat gene.” Now, over ten years later, despite considerable progress in scientific quarters, it is unclear what causes people to be fat or gay, and debates continue to be waged about whether the quest for a cause is even a desirable endeavor. Still, public imagination about the existence of these dictator genes, as prompted by media sources, suggests that the possibility of a genetic “cause” for fatness and homosexuality factors heavily in discourse about public policy, legal protection, civil rights, and social movement rhetoric....

    • 8 Prescription for Harm: Diet Industry Influence, Public Health Policy, and the “Obesity Epidemic”
      (pp. 75-87)
      Pat Lyons

      Messages of alarm about Americans’ weight gain due to fast food and sedentary living that fill the pages of newspapers and public health policy forums today are eerily similar to the concerns voiced over one hundred years ago. Fear of fat is not new, nor is the promotion of pills, potions, surgery, and other “cures.” What is new in the last fifty years, most especially since 1994, is the extent to which the diet and weight loss industry has moved from the sidelines to the center of American life, managing to dramatically increase its influence and profits without ever increasing...

    • 9 Public Fat: Canadian Provincial Governments and Fat on the Web
      (pp. 88-96)
      Laura Jennings

      Public policy approaches toward fat vary greatly from area to area. Annemarie Jutel (2001) examines major health policy documents of several nations, and her findings indicate a spectrum of approaches and attitudes toward fat and fat people. In general, the U.S. governmental approach emphasizes quantitative measures such as body mass index (BMI) and places “weight management before health management” (Jutel, 2001, p. 286). The national government of Canada falls at the other end of this spectrum, recognizing the shortcomings of BMI as a proxy for health and acknowledging the dangers of very low weights (Jutel, 2001).

      In the United States,...

    • 10 That Remains to Be Said: Disappeared Feminist Discourses on Fat in Dietetic Theory and Practice
      (pp. 97-105)
      Lucy Aphramor and Jacqui Gingras

      In this chapter we, two feminist dietitian scholars, take a critical look at how our profession, although ideally situated to widen debate on fat and bodies, instead routinizes dominant understandings and eclipses alternative ways of telling and knowing fat. Dietetics recognizes knowledge as that which can be supported by dominant scientific literature developed around rigorous, quantifiable scientific methods. Such rational knowing has implications for how dietetics is taught and practiced (Liquori, 2001). Travers (1995) contends that professional nutrition discourse constructs nutrition and health inequities and contributes to public health problems. DeVault (1999) describes the professional training that dietetic students receive...

    • 11 Fatness (In)visible: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and the Rhetoric of Normative Femininity
      (pp. 106-110)
      Christina Fisanick

      It is estimated that 6 to 10 percent of all women have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine disorder characterized by “obesity,” male pattern hair growth and loss, irregular menstruation and infertility, and skin abnormalities such as skin tags, adult acne, and dark patches of skin under the armpits and between the thighs (Thatcher, 2000). Despite its prevalence, PCOS is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, leading Dr. Samuel Thatcher to dub it “the hidden epidemic” (p. 14). It is difficult to miss the irony (intended or not) in this designation. After all, in our image-obsessed culture, it would...

  8. PART III FATNESS AS SOCIAL INEQUALITY

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 111-112)

      These chapters address from a variety of perspectives the relationship between fatness and prejudice, discrimination, and other effects of social inequality. Attention is paid to the intersections of fatness with other characteristics, including youth, motherhood, gender, gender identity, and national origin.

      After reading these chapters consider the following discussion questions:

      Given the commonplace discourse of a “childhood obesity epidemic,” what blame is placed on mothers and how does race factor into the discussion?

      How does a cultural heritage of hostility toward fatness influence the bullying of fat youth?

      Is bullying of fat youth and violence toward fat women a predictable...

    • 12 Fat Kids, Working Moms, and the “Epidemic of Obesity”: Race, Class, and Mother Blame
      (pp. 113-119)
      Natalie Boero

      The centrality of children to the “epidemic of obesity” has led to a search for the “causes” and “cures” of childhood fatness. In scientific and medical literature and the media, too much fast food, too much television, and too little exercise are seen as the main culprits (Boero, 2007). Yet one does not have to dig far below the surface to find a distinct trend of “mother blame” in common sense and professional understandings of both the causes of and interventions into this “epidemic of childhood obesity.” As they are usually charged with the preparation, regulation, and purchase of food...

    • 13 Fat Youth as Common Targets for Bullying
      (pp. 120-126)
      Jacqueline Weinstock and Michelle Krehbiel

      Are certain youth more likely than other youth to become victims of bullying? Although researchers debate this question, it is increasingly clear that being fat makes a youth an easy and common target for bullies. In this chapter, we explore the extent and impact of bullying on youth who are fat, identify the factors that likely contribute to the targeting of these youth, and reflect on strategies for intervening with and preventing this targeted bullying.

      Youth bullying is now recognized as a serious problem, one with both concurrent and long-term negative effects (Craig & Pepler, 2003; Rigby, 2003). Prevalence estimates...

    • 14 Bon Bon Fatty Girl: A Qualitative Exploration of Weight Bias in Singapore
      (pp. 127-138)
      Maho Isono, Patti Lou Watkins and Lee Ee Lian

      “You’ve put on weight, haven’t you?” is a common entrée to conversation in Singapore, where casual remarks about body shape and size are widely accepted. This chapter explores how such remarks affect individuals, particularly young women in this culture. Results from a qualitative study are discussed in the context of the existing literature on weight bias in personal spheres. The discussion also speaks to Singapore’s efforts to address eating disorders and forge a more adaptive approach to weight and health.

      Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has seen dramatic economic development. This increase in wealth has coincided with an increase...

    • 15 Part-Time Fatso
      (pp. 139-142)
      S. Bear Bergman

      I look the same every day. I’m five feet nine inches tall, broad shouldered and white skinned, green eyed with short brown hair, roughly 275 pounds. I dress myself plainly—blue jeans and button-downs, boots or sandals. I wear glasses. All these things are true all the time, and yet even so I am only Fat in the normative, cultural, “Ew, gross, look at it jiggle” sense about a third of the time.

      Whether I’m fat depends on whether the person or people looking at me believe me to be a man or a woman.

      After the first reading of...

    • 16 Double Stigma: Fat Men and Their Male Admirers
      (pp. 143-150)
      Nathaniel C. Pyle and Michael I. Loewy

      There is a thriving sub-sub-culture that very few people know about. Although there are many things that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have in common with one another politically, there are actually many different queer communities (Collins, 2004). Within the greater queer population, various communities are marginalized; in response, they each form their own spaces in which to congregate (Boykin, 1996). Among these sub-cultures within a sub-culture are communities of fat gay men and their male admirers. These are men who either do not fit the dominant image of gay men, or are not attracted to it. The primary purpose...

    • 17 The Shape of Abuse: Fat Oppression as a Form of Violence Against Women
      (pp. 151-157)
      Tracy Royce

      There is now a large body of scholarly work documenting the many ways in which fat people are stigmatized in contemporary U.S. society (see Wann, Burgard, this volume). Although fat men are certainly subject to prejudice and discrimination, antifat bias is particularly salient in the lives of fat women, who have to contend with unrealistic, ever-narrowing beauty standards and the considerable importance that society places on female appearance (Chen & Brown, 2005; Gailey & Prohaska, 2006; Schur, 1984; Wolf, 1991).

      One area of special concern for fat women has gone relatively unexplored in the social science literature: the intersection of...

    • 18 Fat Women as “Easy Targets”: Achieving Masculinity Through Hogging
      (pp. 158-166)
      Ariane Prohaska and Jeannine Gailey

      “Hogging” is a practice in which men prey on women they deem fat or unattractive to satisfy sexual desires or compete with their peers. Hoggers, a self-imposed label, are groups of men who hang out at bars or parties and try to pick up fat women for sex or make bets with their friends about who can pick up the fattest or most unattractive woman (Gailey & Prohaska, 2006). The bets range from simply getting a phone number or dance to receiving some form of sexual gratification from the woman.

      Hogging, as a scholarly topic, has largely been ignored until...

    • 19 No Apology: Shared Struggles in Fat and Transgender Law
      (pp. 167-175)
      Dylan Vade and Sondra Solovay

      People who are transgender, fat, or both encounter significant obstacles to full participation in mainstream U.S. society. These obstacles include attitudinal, physical, and policy barriers that affect ordinary, daily activities like using bathrooms, going to school, and finding or maintaining employment. When attempting to overcome these barriers by using the legal system, not only are fat or transgender people expected to share a goal of assimilation, but they are coerced into reinforcing fat-phobic and transgender-phobic norms in to secure basic legal rights enjoyed by their non-fat and non-transgender peers. This is a cruel cycle: oppression necessitates the legal intervention, yet...

    • 20 Access to the Sky: Airplane Seats and Fat Bodies as Contested Spaces
      (pp. 176-186)
      Joyce L. Huff

      As Michel Foucault (1979) has pointed out, since the eighteenth century Euro-American cultures have conceived of the body as adaptable, able to achieve and maintain socially prescribed standards. In the twenty-first-century United States, this body has come increasingly to be seen as capable of adapting itself to spaces constructed to meet the needs of corporations rather than those of individuals. For example, mass production, a process that accommodates manufacturers’ desires to maintain high profit margins by producing goods quickly and cheaply, assumes that the consumer’s body is mutable and will alter to fit into preconstructed spaces, such as off-the-rack, rather...

    • 21 Neoliberalism and the Constitution of Contemporary Bodies
      (pp. 187-196)
      Julie Guthman

      A growing literature in social science uses terms such as “foodscape” or “toxic environment” as explanations for the so-called epidemic of obesity. The thrust of these arguments is that fast, junky food is everywhere, available all the time, which is the reason that North Americans, and to some extent their counterparts, the British, are becoming increasingly fat. I do not concede the factuality of the “obesity epidemic” as it has been constructed and represented, and I am troubled by the renewed stigmatization of fat people that this epidemic talk has produced. Yet it is important to take the foodscape argument...

    • 22 Sitting Pretty: Fat Bodies, Classroom Desks, and Academic Excess
      (pp. 197-204)
      Ashley Hetrick and Derek Attig

      Desks hurt us. Such an admission is an appropriate way to both begin this essay and explain the primary motivation behind our exploration of student bodies in classroom environments. It is through experiencing the physical pain and social shame of classroom desks that we first became interested in the issue of space and how it is distributed and policed in and through the homogenizing structures of desks. These desks are not, we argue, neutral and benign spaces; they are, rather, highly active material and discursive constructions that seek to both indoctrinate students’ bodies and minds into the middle-class values of...

    • 23 Stigma Threat and the Fat Professor: Reducing Student Prejudice in the Classroom
      (pp. 205-212)
      Elena Andrea Escalera

      Weight discrimination in the workplace has long been documented in many disciplines (Kristen, 2002; Roehling, 1999). This study looks at how fat discrimination plays out in a very specialized venue: the college classroom.

      In academic settings, professors are not only evaluated by their colleagues, department chairs, and deans, but also by their students. Students, who have relatively less status in the system, have significant power in the evaluation of their professors. Rank and tenure committees use these evaluations to determine promotion and retention. Quite literally, a professor’s job is on the line if student evaluations are low.

      Student evaluations have...

    • 24 Fat Stories in the Classroom: What and How Are They Teaching About Us?
      (pp. 213-220)
      Susan Koppelman

      Our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and understanding of reality are all shaped by and subject to the power of stories. Theoreticians and strategists, people in the helping professions, advertisers, and propagandists analyze how stories can influence people and policies; parents, preachers, and politicians have always recognized this power. So do revolutionaries. Liberation movement leaders encourage new stories told, sung, and danced in the voices of the oppressed. They pressure existing publications to include these voices, and they create new publications. Call it size acceptance, fat civil rights, body diversity, or fat liberation, our civil rights movement is committed to bringing about...

  9. PART IV SIZE-ISM IN POPULAR CULTURE AND LITERATURE

    • 25 Fat Girls and Size Queens: Alternative Publications and the Visualizing of Fat and Queer Eroto-politics in Contemporary American Culture
      (pp. 223-230)
      Stefanie Snider

      In the zinesFaT GiRL: A Zine for Fat Dykes and the Women Who Want ThemandSize Queen: For Queen Size Queers and Our Loyal Subjects, members of fat and queer pride movements produce textual and visual selves that center on their culturally contested bodies. Joining the personal and political in these activist objects, the zines simultaneously use and reject conventional ideas and ideals of deviant bodies to reinvent marginalized fat and queer identities. This is important for activist movements that work to find and infiltrate spaces within American culture to form self-representative and self-loving communities. An examination of...

    • 26 Fat Girls Need Fiction
      (pp. 231-234)
      Susan Stinson

      Fat girls need fiction.

      For this to be true does not require that fat girls need fiction more than anyone else, or that we need it because we are fat. Human beings are complex, and there is unlikely to be only one simple story about why we need anything.

      I am a novelist, frankly biased, but I find it utterly compelling to think of bringing the qualities that Nussbaum attributes to fancy—a generous construction of the seen; preference for wonder over pat solutions; tenderness; eroticism; and awe before the fact of human mortality—to the contemplation of my fat...

    • 27 Fat Heroines in Chick-Lit: Gateway to Acceptance in the Mainstream?
      (pp. 235-240)
      Lara Frater

      There is one place in popular media where a fat woman gets a chance to star, and that is in novels of the Chick-Lit genre. Chick-Lit is defined by ChicklitBooks.com as a “genre comprised of books that are mainly written by women for women” (October 15, 2006). According toChick Lit: The New Women’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young (2006), the term was first used in 1995 inChick-Lit: Post-Feminist Fiction, edited by Cris Mazza (1996). Chick-Lit differs from the Romance genre by giving us female characters who consider finding love to be less important than finding...

    • 28 The Fat of the (Border)land: Food, Flesh, and Hispanic Masculinity in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop
      (pp. 241-248)
      Julia McCrossin

      “There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup,” Bishop Latour proclaims as he complements his fellow French missionary Father Vaillant’s culinary skills near the beginning of Willa Cather’sDeath Comes for the Archbishop(1990a, p. 299). Toward the end of the narrative, Latour urges his newest priests “to encourage the Mexicans to add fruit to their starchy diet” (p. 438). In the spaces between these two statements, spaces that span time and country and culinary habits, lies an undiscovered portion of the Southwest inDeath Comes for the Archbishop.In this text these two Catholic priests often...

    • 29 Placing Fat Women on Center Stage
      (pp. 249-255)
      JuliaGrace Jester

      As much as theatre is a form of expression, it is also a visual sphere in which norms of appearance are obeyed. According to Jill Dolan and others (1991; Feuer, 1999; Mulvey, 1975), theatre has been traditionally designed for the “male gaze,” indicating both the (un)intended audience for theatre and the perspective from which much of theatre is presented. Under these conditions, it seems that there would be no place in theatre for fat women, who are neither objects of attraction nor traditionally considered beautiful (Callaghan, 1994). It is not that fat women have not had a place in theatre;...

    • 30 “The White Man’s Burden”: Female Sexuality, Tourist Postcards, and the Place of the Fat Woman in Early 20th-Century U.S. Culture
      (pp. 256-262)
      Amy Farrell

      While doing research at the Alice Marshall Women’s History Collection at Penn State, Harrisburg, I came across an entry reading “FAT WOMEN.” Hoping to find information on dieting products and schemes, I had not expected such an explicit reference to my research on fat stigma. What I found were two huge notebooks that Marshall had meticulously filled with tourist postcards of fat women, dated from the 1910s through the 1940s, sent from beach destinations or national parks. Pictured on the cards are cartoon images of fat working women, of fat homemakers doing the laundry or getting dressed, of fat middle-class...

    • 31 The Roseanne Benedict Arnolds: How Fat Women Are Betrayed by Their Celebrity Icons
      (pp. 263-270)
      Beth Bernstein and Matilda St. John

      According to the latest federal guidelines, more than half the people in the United States are fat, but you would never know it by monitoring television and movie screens. Fat people—more specifically, fat women—are a majority group with few celebrities representing us in mainstream media. Housewives on Wisteria Lane may be desperate but they’re not over a size 4. When given airtime, portrayals of fat women are rarely positive, often recycling hurtful and degrading stereotypes. For the fat viewer already feeling demonized for their size, it can be demoralizing never seeing anyone who resembles them portrayed as normal....

    • 32 Jiggle in My Walk: The Iconic Power of the “Big Butt” in American Pop Culture
      (pp. 271-279)
      Wendy A. Burns-Ardolino

      In 1978 the British rock band Queen proclaimed “Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin’ world go round.” This move to reappropriate the negative stereotypes of women’s big butts and to revalue them as desirable, however, is conflicted and may be co-opted by the fluidity of cultural signs and meanings flowing freely in American popular culture. The image of the big butt continues to be a site of contestation in popular culture, as evidenced in music, fashion, and beauty cultures. Only thirteen years after Sir Mix-A-Lot argued, “SoCosmosays you’re fat, well I ain’t down with that” (1992), the...

    • 33 Seeing Through the Layers: Fat Suits and Thin Bodies in The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal
      (pp. 280-288)
      Katharina R. Mendoza

      In November 2001, audiences flocked to theaters to see actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s famously thin figure encased in a latex and foam fat costume in the romantic comedyShallow Hal.Once novel, the fat suit is now just a regular part of the U.S. entertainment industry’s repertoire of special effects. Calling this phenomenon the “new minstrel show,”Bitchmagazine writer Marisa Meltzer observes, “Fat people are now America’s favorite celluloid punchlines” (2002, p. 19). The steadily growing list of film and television actors who have suited up in fake fat stretches from “Weird Al” Yankovic parodying Michael Jackson in the music...

    • 34 Controlling the Body: Media Representations, Body Size, and Self-Discipline
      (pp. 289-296)
      Dina Giovanelli and Stephen Ostertag

      We’ve all been in social settings where we’ve felt compelled to look and act certain ways. We might pause to ask why we feel this need to present ourselves in specific ways. The concept of panopticism provides one answer to this question. Panopticism refers to surveillance and social control where people alter their behavior because they feel as if others are constantly observing and judging them. With panopticism, power saturates the self and invades every minutia of existence. Initially, the term “panopticon” referred to either crime or sexuality (Foucault, 1977, 1978). More recently, it has evolved to encompass the mass...

  10. PART V EMBODYING AND EMBRACING FATNESS

    • 35 “I’m Allowed to Be a Sexual Being”: The Distinctive Social Conditions of the Fat Burlesque Stage
      (pp. 299-304)
      D. Lacy Asbill

      In modern burlesque performance, fat women’s bodies are bothrevealedin their fleshy materiality and revealing of contemporary discourse about embodiment. Fat burlesque dancers use the performance space to present, define, and defend their sexualities, resisting a backdrop of medical and social discourses that inform their everyday lives. Although the fat body commonly represents a burgeoning public health epidemic, burlesque performance redefines the fat body as an object of sexual desire and as home to a desiring sexual subject. Through the sensuous art of striptease, these performers invoke, inhabit, and challenge limiting cultural conceptions about fat women’s sexuality, purposefully creating...

    • 36 Embodying Fat Liberation
      (pp. 305-311)
      Heather McAllister

      As the founder and artistic director of Big Burlesque and the Fat-Bottom Revue, the world’s first all-fat burlesque troupe, I’ve learned that fat liberation occurs only when we embody it physically as well as accepting it politically and theoretically.

      Far from fat liberation community, I read Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser’sShadow on a Tightrope(1983). I stopped drinking diet soda and became a fat activist. My experience as a queer social justice activist dovetailed with my fat activism. Both of these identities—fat and queer—were crucial in the vision and structure of Big Burlesque. Regardless of the sexual...

    • 37 Not Jane Fonda: Aerobics for Fat Women Only
      (pp. 312-319)
      Jenny Ellison

      Clad in high-cut leotards on the cover of her bestsellingWorkout Bookand aerobics videos, Jane Fonda and her message of discipline as liberation are emblematic of the beauty and bodily norms of the 1980s (Kagan & Morse, 1988; Losano & Risch 2001).¹ Aerobics videos and classes, like Dancercise or Jazzercise, combine callisthenic exercise with dance moves and set them to music. By 1986 an estimated 21.9 million Americans were doing aerobics on a regular basis, most of them women (Kagan & Morse, 1988). Fonda was at the forefront of this trend.Jane Fonda’s Workout Book(1981) sold over 1.8...

    • 38 Exorcising the Exercise Myth: Creating Women of Substance
      (pp. 320-324)
      Dana Schuster and Lisa Tealer

      The vision of fat women exercising, swimming, or working out rarely enters the mind of the average person in U.S. society. The Working-at-Being-Fat myth, held by most people, dictates that people get fat by choosing to avoid exercise in favor of sitting on the couch, eating donuts, and watching television; exercise is then the punishment, the penance, for this previous “bad” behavior. Like so many other assumptions made about fat people, the belief that they do not exercise is untrue. But what is the experience of working out as a fat person given these societal stereotypes, and how can that...

  11. PART VI STARTING THE REVOLUTION

    • [Part VI Introduction]
      (pp. 325-326)

      There is a vast distance to go before achieving weight-based equality. These essays catalog the significant barriers to social change, but they also tap into a diverse and powerful grassroots movement that desires change. In these concluding chapters the focus is on where fat studies scholars and activists go from here.

      After reading these chapters consider the following discussion questions:

      What are the next questions that fat studies scholars should address? Is fat prejudice a uniquely U.S. issue? Is fat studies a specifically U.S. field of inquiry? Why or why not?

      Is the United States a unique source of mainstream...

    • 39 Maybe It Should Be Called Fat American Studies
      (pp. 327-333)
      Charlotte Cooper

      I am a fat activist and writer, I am British, I live in London, and I would like to discuss the way that U.S. identity is informing and influencing the direction of Fat Studies. Fat activists are not well connected in established networks outside the United States, and we are frequently isolated from one another. It seems to me that fat has come to be regarded as an issue sited specifically within the United States, and that nontraditional knowledge about fat, embodied in Fat Studies, remains locked inside that country.

      I will suggest that although U.S. cultural dominance in the...

    • 40 Are We Ready to Throw Our Weight Around? Fat Studies and Political Activism
      (pp. 334-340)
      Deb Burgard, Elana Dykewomon, Esther Rothblum and Pattie Thomas

      The authors of this volume are a force to be reckoned with. They constitute over fifty writers, researchers, and activists who are thoughtfully critiquing the status quo of fat-related practices. And they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are now over one hundred books written from a fat-affirmative perspective, including many autobiographical pieces and works of fiction for children, adolescents, and adults. They are stating that the so-called medical reality of weight is all smoke and mirrors.

      We can imagine a world in which body size is not particularly salient. It would not be one of the dividing...

  12. Appendix A: Fat Liberation Manifesto, November 1973
    (pp. 341-342)
    Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran
  13. Appendix B: Legal Briefs
    (pp. 343-350)
  14. About the Contributors
    (pp. 351-358)
  15. Index
    (pp. 359-365)