I hate to admit it, but somehow, I missed a landmark publication from NYU Press. (This is all the more shameful in light of the fact that I earned my M.A. and Ph.D. from NYU.) The book in question came out in November, 2009, and it marked a watershed moment in fat studies, in particular, the field of women’s fat studies. (I kid you not.)
I’m speaking of The Fat Studies Reader, edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay, winner of the 2010 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology as well as winner of the 2010 Susan Koppelman Award for the Best Edited Volume in Women’s Studies from the Popular Culture Association.
According to the blurb, “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.”
Perhaps I was not the only one ignorant of the field of “fat studies” or the existence of a “fat pride” movement? But this is meant to be serious stuff, starting with the Foreword by Marilyn Wann: “Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution.”
A fat pride revolution?
Part 1 of the book is entitled, “What Is Fat Studies? The Social and Historical Construction of Fatness,” containing these two foundation-laying chapters: “The Inner Corset: A Brief History of Fat in the United States” and “Fattening Queer History: Where Does Fat History Go from Here?” (I’m not making this up.)
Part 2, “Fat Studies in Health and Medicine,” includes chapters like, “Widening the Dialogue to Narrow the Gap in Health Disparities: Approaches to Fat Black Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health Promotion,” and “Quest for a Cause: The Fat Gene, the Gay Gene, and the New Eugenics.”
If you think you see a pattern emerging (fat pride and gay pride; a fat gene and a gay gene), you’re right, as confirmed in Part 3 of the book, with chapters on, “Fat Youth as Common Targets for Bullying” along with “Double Stigma: Fat Men and Their Male Admirers.” Indeed, LGBT parallels are prominent in the book, especially in the chapter “No Apology: Shared Struggles in Fat and Transgender Law.” And, just as “gay” replaced “homosexual,” this book makes clear that “fat” should replace “obese.”
Part 4 is entitled, “Size-ism in Popular Culture and Literature” (another “ism” to be deconstructed), while Part 5 focuses on, “Embodying and Embracing Fatness,” indicating that fatness is something to be embraced (and celebrated?). And this paves the way for the concluding section of the book, “Starting the Revolution,” which ends with the chapter, “Are We Ready to Throw Our Weight Around? Fat Studies and Political Activism.” Following this is Appendix A: “Fat Liberation Manifesto, November 1973.”
Well, I must confess my ignorance. I had no idea such a manifesto existed, let alone one dating back to 1973 (the same year that homosexuality was depathologized by the American Psychiatric Association), and so, I decided to educate myself in the area of fat pride.
I learned about NAAFA , the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, founded in 1969 (the same year as the Stonewall riots). “NAAFA's goal is to help build a society in which people of every size are accepted with dignity and equality in all aspects of life” (naafa.org). I discovered the Fat Times Pride publication, billed as “Breaking Food News You Can Use Since 1985,” and I picked up a new word, “avoirdupois,” having to do with a person’s weight or heaviness, as found in Juliet Samuel’s October 23, 2007 article posted on Reason.com, “Fat Pride World Wide: The growing movement for avoirdupois acceptance.”
According to this article, fat pride activists claim that “the American medical establishment has lost its head over the nationwide ‘obesity epidemic,’ and its prejudice is claiming victims.” In response to these perceived abuses, “fat people are mobilizing. The ‘fat pride’ or ‘fat acceptance’ movement might provoke the scorn of skinnies, but it is growing in number and makes a compelling case.”
To be sure, there is an unhealthy overemphasis on perfect bodies in our society today (especially for women), not to mention the image of almost skeletal fashion models, while on the flip side, there certainly is an obesity epidemic in America. And no one who has ever struggled with his or her weight would make light of those struggles.
Still, I wasn’t quite ready for a fat uprising, a fat pride movement, or a fat revolution. Who knew?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.