At the end of June, Fat Studies: Identity, Agency, Embodiment is taking place in Palmerston North, New Zealand. The two day event will feature fat studies scholarship and fat activism from individuals from seven countries. If you haven’t registered yet – do so now! I’m super excited about #FSNZ16, and since I have the inside scoop, I thought I’d share snippets of some of the talks.
Concerns, culprits, counsel, and conflict: ‘Obesity’ and fat discourse in online news media
Patricia Cain, Murdoch University, Australia
In recent years ‘obesity’ and fat discourse in western media has matured; the sensationalist headlines and simplistic slogans that characterised early ‘obesity crisis’ discourse are increasingly sharing space with more sophisticated analysis that recognise the complexity and nuance of issues around fat embodiment and public health. Understanding how the logic and evidentiary components of critical fat perspectives are incorporated into everyday discourses around fat not only provides insight into weight based stigma and discrimination but also allows potential sites and methods for change to be identified.
Genderqueer, Trans, fluid, fat: Physical modification and the politics of acceptance
Katie LeBesco, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Marymount Manhattan College, New York, USA
The fat activist edict against deliberate weight loss intersects in fascinating ways with the trans drive for physical modification. In one case, accepting oneself means being satisfied with one’s own body, and thus precludes intentional physical transformation. In the other, it is often the physical transformation that enables self-acceptance, as the body at birth seems incongruous with identity. Genderqueer, nonbinary, and fluid individuals further complicate the meaning of bodily modification.
Is Fat the new Black? Frantz Fanon and the fact of fatness
Jessica Maclean, Aotahi: School of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Martinican anticolonial philosopher Frantz Fanon describes ‘blackness’ in an antiblack society as, not a self-created identity, but one that is thrust upon him by virtue of his physical appearance. His blackness becomes a social uniform behind which Fanon the individual disappears. This is the zone of non-being where a black person is not seen; only the fact of their blackness remains. There are parallels to be explored between aspects of Fanon’s work on black embodiment, and emerging critiques of the ways in which ‘fat’ bodies are conceptualised and pathologised. Fat bodies, like black bodies before them, have become contested sites upon which contemporary normative standards are imposed.
Childhood Obe$ity Inc: Governing the (un)healthy child-consumer
Darren Powell, Curriculum and Pedagogy, University of Auckland, New Zealand
In recent times, multi-national food and beverage corporations (described by some as ‘Big Food’) have been blamed for a global childhood obesity ‘crisis’. Unsurprisingly, these corporations have been quick to refute these claims and now position themselves as ‘part of the solution’ to childhood obesity. In this presentation I examine how corporations are using, even exploiting, concerns about children’s fat bodies for their own business interests by funding and implementing a variety of physical activity/health eating/anti-obesity programmes and resources in primary [elementary] schools.
Narrative films on the impact of body standards in & on intersectional Queer community
Jen Rinaldi, Legal Studies, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada
Carla Rice, University of Guelph, Canada
Andrea LaMarre, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph, Canada
In our research project Through Thick and Thin, we engage with how persons in queer communities who identify as women and who claim multiple intersecting positionalities confront body image ideals and body management expectations. We explore how they negotiate and are affected by culturally inscribed body standards in and outside LGBTQ communities, and how they resist with counter-cultural practices. In this presentation we will showcase narrative films featuring assemblages of queer sexuality, gender expression and identity, and other privileged or minoritized identifications in confrontation with weight-based stigma, expectations around eating and exercise, and experiences of pathologization. In so doing we will speak back to assumptions that are projected on or work to discount diverse subjectivities, and that inform medical scholarship and practice especially related to fat and queer embodiments.
Hey Fat Bitch!
Kath Read, Fat Heffalump, Australia
For many women and girls, “fat” is the first insult they hear and/or are taught to fear in their lives. From early childhood right throughout their lives, women repeatedly hear the message that fat is bad, and weight based insults are usually the go-to attacks on women. When women and girls actually are fat, they usually have the additional abuse purely because of the size of their bodies.
This essay and image presentation aims to highlight the long term effect of weight based abuse on the quality of life of fat women and girls and ask how both activism and academia can work towards reducing these negative impacts.
Sex, saleability and self-esteem: Fat female agency in arranged marriages in India
Gurleen Khandpur, University of Otago, New Zealand
An estimated 95% of marriages in India are arranged. This practice of arranging matches, mostly by parents with the help of extended family, network of friends and go-betweens, is rooted in tradition and a web of complex social practices and belief systems. Of the many criteria that affect the value prospective ‘brides and grooms to be’ command in the marriage mart are those related to norms governing social & sexual desirability, and gender. Because of this there has been a long history of feminist discourse around marriage in general and a focussed analysis of arranged marriages in particular. Feminist analysis in this instance, however, has failed miserably in critically engaging with the position fat women occupy. In my paper I present an intersectional analysis exploring the challenges unique to being both fat and a woman within this context in India. In particular I focus on themes of female agency in the process of arranging a match and how internalised fat phobia and size based oppression play out within this scenario.
Extremes of volume: Anorexia and obesity in new media
Valeria Radrigán, TRANSLAB, Chile
Tania Orellana, University of Chile, Chile
The paper addresses the manifestations of extreme body volumes (anorexia and obesity) constructed and showed on the internet and in some reality- makeover shows. We will focus on the body transition from stigmatization towards a performative resistance in new media, both in social practices and specific artistic works, reviewing how they permeate the representation of these volumes, not only in terms of their their associations to sick / healthy, but also in the installation of aesthetics with extensive incidence in experience and sensitivity.
Clinging to fat acceptance: Experiences of fatness and early motherhood
Jenny Lee, Creative Writing, Literary Studies, and Gender Studies, Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia
This is an autoethnographic paper about my experience of conception, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding as a fat woman. There were times when my fat body was seen as barren, incapable, and excessive and also times when I didn’t know whether I could trust a medical opinion to be objective, because I inhabit a fat body. I discuss medical and cultural assumptions about a fat woman’s ability to conceive, how much weight a fat woman ‘should’ gain in pregnancy and what she ‘should’ eat according to medical guidelines, and whether fat women are in higher need of caesarean sections.
“Inside this fat body is a thin person trying to get out”: Negotiating fatphobia in Finland and North America
Jeannine Gailey, Texas Christian University, USA
Hannele Harjunen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
In this paper, we highlight the similarities in North American and Finnish discourses surrounding the fat body. Based on our respective empirical findings, we argue that the comparison of the two discourses indicates that there is a shared Western fat/obesity lived experience that perpetuates a stigmatized gendered landscape of living with a fat body. Through in-depth interviews and autobiographical writings with North American and Finnish women, we found that discourses tend to revolve around the internalization of fatphobia, the phenomenon of hyper(in)visibility, and a belief that fat is a temporary or liminal state. We argue that these findings are the result of the tremendous stigma and mistreatment that both of our samples of women are faced with in their daily lives.
Adipositivity: Part fat, part feminism, part f**k you
Substantia Jones, The Adipositivity Project, New York, USA
Shrinking bodies is a growing business. And the more it grows, the more fat people are being shut out of positive or neutral representation in media and culture. But visibility is vital to our well-being. So what do we do? We create our own. And we support the homegrown visibility of others.
The closing night of the conference, Substantia has a show opening at Te Manawa – I cannot wait to see her work on the walls of gallery!
If you’re interested in attending #FSNZ16, but cannot travel to New Zealand and attend in person, we’ve got an online option that allows you to live stream both days and access on demand videos after. You can also tweet us questions @FSNZ2016