Last week I attended the national Popular and American Culture Associations conference in Washington DC with my partner Julia McCrossin (who lives in Maryland) – she has co-chaired the PCA’s Fat Studies area* for the last several years with Lesleigh Owen (Black Hills State University), and stepped down at the end of this year’s conference to be succeeded by Laura Jennings (University of South Carolina – Upstate). This was my second PCA con – the first was last year’s, held in Boston (where I live). (*The PCA FS area has a Facebook Group at which all are welcome, and there are at least two general “Fat Studies” FB Groups.)
It was an even more wonderful experience than last year! Such excellent presentations and so much more. Sadly, like most people we have very little access to offline fat (and fat-allied) community, especially locally, especially Julia. Although the extreme scheduling left little time or energy for anything else. We hope to attend next year’s PCA in Chicago, but don’t know if we’ll be able to afford it.
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay at the conference hotel, but we were able to attend all 14 of the Fat Studies sessions and the annual FS dinner.
There were no FS sessions on Wednesday.
Thursday there was one session from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Friday there were 5 sessions between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., beginning with two special joint sessions with the PCA’s Fashion, Style, Appearance, Consumption & Design area. Afterwards, we gathered in the lobby at 5:00 to schlep to a 5:30 reservation for the FS dinner. Helping to lead close to forty people from many states and a few countries from the hotel at Woodley Park to the Maggiano’s at Friendship Heights (the nearest restaurant that could accommodate us, and even then it was at two parallel tables for twenty each) via the Metro was an anxious adventure but also an enjoyable one, and the dinner was a success; I sat and talked with Joyce Huff and her husband, Elena Levy-Navarro, and also Mary Stein.
Saturday there were 8 sessions between 8:00 a.m. and 9:45 p.m.
Each session was usually four presenters (sometimes three or two) and an hour and a half, with 15 minute breaks in between – there were no other breaks. Thankfully all FS sessions were in one room – the McKinley instead of the Taft (anyone have a non-fatphobic link for him?), but one can’t have everything.
Julia chaired three sessions, all on Saturday – Fat Health and Science, the author-meets-critics roundtable for Natalie Boero's book Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic" (available at Amazon); and the roundtable Frank Talk: Fat Sexuality and Difficult Discussions.
I was one of the four Fat Sexuality panelists, along with Joyce Huff, Erec Smith and Kristin Rodier.
“This round table will provide an opportunity for panelists and audience members to dialogue on the often problematic and erased topic of fat sexuality. In fat academic, activist, and social circles, fat sexuality as practice, as desire, and as pleasure, is a realm of discussion that has yet to be fully fleshed out. What is the history of fat bodies and their relation to these questions? Do fat positive individuals have an obligation to possess certain desires, certain aesthetic parameters, in order to further the destigmatization of fat bodies? What role does the non-fat sexual partner have in advancing fat positivity and the demarginalization of fat people as desirable subjects? Are some fat people in fact practicing a distinct sexuality, rather than replicating existing norms along a heterosexual/homosexual axis? The round table promises to provide ample audience participation, and we look forward to a wide open discussion of fat sexuality.”
Sadly, due to the conference’s exhausting scheduling and my anxiety, I was a pretty poor panelist – though afterwards a few audience members told me they found my contribution valuable. And my fellow panelists were impressive. I particularly want to raise up Erec’s piece “Well-Rounded Fat Activism: Sex, Spirituality, and Yema Rose” which he published at More Of Me To Love last October and included in his mini-presentation at this panel.
Julia and I also ran into two of her former fellow grad students from George Washington University’s English department – who like me are fans of National Public Radio’s quiz show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” but are frustrated and more with the increasingly amount of fatphobic “jokes”, and want to organize a letter writing campaign or something. So stay tuned for more about that.
Click here for the PDF of the conference program (the hard copy is a pretty large paperback book! and that doesn't include the addendum booklet), here for the interactive database version of the schedule, and here for the database version’s collection of the Fat Studies program text.
And here is all the Fat Studies program text in one place:
THURSDAY March 28th
Fat Studies: Workshop
How Can We Interrupt Fat Hate? Using the Theatre of the Oppressed to Rehearse Responses to Fat Oppression
- Kathryn Alexander, Portland State University
- One of the perpetual challenges in the fat acceptance movement is how to take on the task of responding to acts of hate speech and fat oppression. Often in the moment we are so overcome with our own emotions that we are left speechless, voiceless and powerless. Part of the work of the fat acceptance movement is to find ways of overcoming this speechlessness and to regain strength in our most vulnerable moments of oppression.
- Augusto Boal described a form of theater called Forum Theater in his book Theatre of the Oppressed. In Forum Theater, participants become active members in sharing, reenacting and subsequently interrupting scenes of oppression. Participants rehearse their responses to oppression and hate speech in order to prepare to interrupt those scenes of oppression again in their own lives.
- In this performance workshop, participants and performers will share experiences of fat hate speech and fat oppression and select stories to rehearse and interrupt with each other in the safety of a group of like-minded folk. Together we can create, practice and test various responses to fat hate that we may encounter and build ways to interrupt hate speech in our lives.
Fat Studies: special Joint Panel with Fashion etc. area (1 of 2)
- Session Chair: Jo Paoletti, University of Maryland
- "Calling All Chubbies!" 100 Years of Advertising at Lane Bryant
- Margaret Powell, Smithsonian Associates - Corcoran College of Art and Design
- The model on the cover of the 1952 Fall/Winter Lane Bryant catalog is all smiles. She is standing with a hand raised to her mouth and shouting to her friends (who are all out of the camera’s range) in a buttoned, full-length camel hair coat: “Calling All Chubbies!” The words “Calling All Chubbies” appear in bold script beside her. Inside, each illustrated plus-sized model is introduced as a “Chub.” The text underneath an illustration of a blond high school student in a tweed coat reads, “Let is snow, let it blow, Chub’s snug in her fur-collar storm coat!” Nearly sixty years later, it is difficult to imagine that this text was intended for the approving eyes of plus-sized teenagers and their parents. Why would a business, created out of a female designer’s respect for women with unique wardrobe concerns, select advertising with derogatory text? This paper examines the historical significance of Lane Bryant through a critical review of 100 years of their print and internet advertisements. Beginning with maternity wear in 1911, language and images selected touch upon themes of shame, concealment and change and eventually pivot to encourage self-acceptance, and the reclaiming of personal power, sexuality and self-esteem. The company’s first plus sized advertisement appeared in 1919, promising “Individualized Apparel for the Stout Woman” The 90 years of advertising to follow offer conflicting views of fat shame and fat acceptance as women navigated through the world of modern American fashion.
- Does This Make Me Look Fat, Mommy? The Shaping of Young Minds and Bodies by Clothing.
- Mary Stein, Adjunct and Scholar
- “I can’t eat that! It will make me fat!” – Kindergarten Girl, Age 5, 2005
- “I only ate half of my sandwich at lunch,” said with pride - Fifth Grade Girl, Age 9, 2010
- “I can’t find pants for (my son) that are long enough for his legs and wide enough in the waist.” Mother of Boy, Age 10, 2012
- Real people. Real voices. Real problems. Yet are the problems in their bodies, their minds, or the environmental data they have been given?
- In the 21st century, physical appearance has become paramount, from outward symbols of status to actual body constructs. The pursuit of the fashionable physical ideal is nothing new for adults and teenagers. What is concerning is the acculturation of the physical aesthetic targeting children twelve and younger through fashion trends, marketing, and the dimensions of the clothes themselves in addition to the societal and authoritative pressures applied under the guise of health. This paper explores the shaping of identity, ideals, and physical bodies of children and the adults they will later become through clothing, both in concept and in construction. By looking at fashion trends, the sizing systems of clothes, and the actual measurements of the garments compared to the measurements of the young bodies they are meant for, the overt and covert message of the physical ideal that is currently being sold today will be made clear and thereby raise awareness that young bodies and minds need protection from the hegemony of homogenization.
- “Everyone’s getting fat, except Mama Cass”
- Jo Paoletti, University of Maryland
- The 1960s witnessed two transformative fashion trends, the London-based “Youthquake” and unisex, driven by avant garde designers in the U.S. and Paris.
- The Youthquake modified fit in ways that were imperceptible to most women. In 1966, Vogue reported that the basic slopers (master patterns) for the trendiest designers had changed. Not only was “the look” slimly androgynous; so was the body for which it was designed. The new ideal body was lean, lithe, with a small, wide-set bosom and slender, almost pre-adolescent hips. The new patterns featured higher-cut armholes and higher bustlines. Sleeves were slimmer; pants and skirts were tighter at the hip.
- This sizing change coincided with the emergence of unisex fashion, styles intentionally designed to blur or cross gender lines. The designs of Rudi Gernreich – mini-skirts for men and the famous topless bathing suit -- epitomize the contradictions of the era. These creations represented two important strands in the sexual revolution: a focus on women’s “natural” bodies and a futuristic vision of an egalitarian world. Most of Gernreich’s unisex designs were for the slender and firm; fat, or wrinkled bodies were hidden in caftans.
- In this presentation, I will demonstrate how these trends helped create a culture that redefined “fat”, and marginalized fat women by rendering much fashionable clothing unwearable. I will also consider how singer “Mama” Cass Elliot, resisted this marginalization by adapting the new styles to her own body.
Big and Beautiful: Large Women and Fashion
Fat Studies: Fat Health and Science
- Christina Lindholm, Virginia Commonwealth University
- The full figured woman has been popular for centuries. Rubens (1577-1640) is acclaimed for his paintings of big, beautiful, women and as recently as the early 20th century, King Edward Vll of England (1841-1910) preferred the generously shaped female. Historically, girth was evidence of wealth and plenty, while thin figures reflected starvation and hard times.
- The divine female figure receded during feminist struggles for equal rights-first in the 1920s when the flapper adopted a boyish figure in order to claim her independence and the same rights that men enjoyed. In the 1960s, the youth revolution produced fashion models like the child sized Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy. Since then fashion models have been getting taller and thinner.
- Where does this leave the fashion-minded fat woman? She is one of the last populations to be discriminated against, yet she constitutes at least 40% of the apparel market. Manufacturers consider large sizes to be a ‘niche’ market and seem to have the prevailing notion that fat people are uneducated, uninterested in fashionable dress and unable to afford it in any case. For years, Lane Bryant was the sole purveyor of clothing beyond the 8-14 size range. Liz Claiborne introduced Elisabeth in the 1990s and other companies have now come forth, but comparatively little attention is paid to the fit, quality and fashionability of dress for these women.
- This paper explores the changing attitudes toward fat women and their options and opportunities for fashionable dress.
- Session Chair: Kristin Rodier, University of Alberta (Canada)
- Fashionably Fat: A Dialectic of Race and Silhouette
- Courtney Patterson, Northwestern University
- As the “obesity epidemic” spreads worldwide, many local, federal and international agencies have become more active in monitoring and regulating body size. The fashion industry has not gone untouched by this phenomena, evidenced in 2006 when Madrid, under pressure from its local government, banned models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) below eighteen, as well as clothing designer Elena Miro opening Milan’s fashion week with her plus size creations that same year. This careful attention to body size, and the narratives surrounding its linkages to health, has risen in the fashion world, particularly among designers, models and consumers to address how the "obesity epidemic," along with Western beauty ideals, has undoubtedly influenced fashion culture. However, noticeably absent from this dialogue, and influential fashion events like Elena Miro’s runway show, is the inclusion of plus size black models. While more designers and models of color are entering into the fashion industry, black plus size models are struggling to find a space that fits their distinctive aesthetic, and are calling for more conversation between stakeholders who share power over what is labeled, defined and upheld as fashionable. While obsession with losing weight and maintaining a low, unhealthy BMI has somewhat decreased due to an increase in a particular type of size acceptance (known as “curvy,” but not necessarily fat), biases against black fat bodies, derived from both the "obesity epidemic" and western beauty ideals, result in a formidable gap for these bodies in the fashion industry. This paper, through cultural sociology and visual culture lenses, explores the concept of “plus size” as it relates to fat and fatness and examines the roles of bloggers in the plus size fa(t)shion “blogosphere” as art-makers, to show that race and silhouette are inextricably linked not only to what is produced and consumed on runways and in stores, but also to what may be culturally defined as fashion, blackness, and fatness.
- "Fatshion" Forward: Losing and Reclaiming the Virtual Fat Body in Digital Space
- Cassy Griff, University of Maryland - College Park
- Drawing on digital studies’ engagement with the term “virtual,” this paper will discuss how fat bodies, especially fat women’s bodies, are engaged in two very different definitions of the virtual in online/digital spaces. While fat people actively pursuing weight loss via forums and online communities employ a rhetoric of virtuality in terms of becoming, possibility, and futurity, “fatshion” blogs offer an alternative to this construction. Thus, for fat women who create, maintain, and share blogs specifically designed to showcase their fashion sense and their fat bodies as they are at this precise moment, the virtual is not defined in terms of what it can be, but rather as a space for demonstrating what already is. By utilizing two somewhat divergent (albeit related) definitions of the term “virtual,” this paper seeks to create an analytic for discussing the roles of online/digital spaces and fashion in shaping popular narratives about the fat body as well as resistant or oppositional narratives.
- Affective Politics of Fashion and Fat Activism Beyond “Positive Images”
- Katariina Kyrölä, Media Studies - Stockholm University (Sweden)
- Fat and other body activism’s relation to the media has long been defined through a call for more “positive images” of people of various sizes and shapes. While this kind of activism has its place, it has also created normativities around what counts as “positive” or “negative” images and “good” or “bad” feeling. “Good” feeling in contemporary culture, especially for women, seems tightly connected to consumerism and bodily appearance. Accordingly, some of the most visible and celebrated instances of fat activism have happened within the realm of fashion and beauty, to the extent that “positive images” habitually refer to exactly the types of images that have long been objects of feminist criticism – now only replacing thin women with fat(ter) women.
- Simultaneously, many feminist and fat studies scholars see that the aim of learning to accept one’s body “as it is” has already largely failed, replacing the shame for being unable to change one’s body with the shame for being unable to love one’s body. Similarly, some fat activists reject the ideals of clean pride, placing new focus on visual aesthetics and ethics of shame and disgust, setting the stage for comparisons with gay shame activism and scholarship. Through exploring examples such as Nancy Upton’s mock entry to American Apparel’s plus size clothing line model contest and Beth Ditto’s fashion appearances in the media, the presentation examines the challenges of what could be called fat shame activism to the “positive images” discourse and compares it to gay shame activism in terms of potential as well as risks.
- Revolting Fatshionistas: Defying the tasteful in plus sized clothing
- Brittne Tink, University of Alberta (Canada)
- Kathleen LeBesco observes that the fashion industry has been heavily criticised for redefining what it means to be plus-sized (read: fat) by using average-sized women (sizes 12, 14, and 16) in ‘plus-sized’ advertising (2004, 71). According to the fashion industry, this choice is apolitical: they cannot use models who are truly fat because the public, fat and thin alike, does not want to look at bodies that they find disgusting. Whereas the excess of the fat body was previously disciplined through its exclusion from the public sphere, the fat female body is now being “tamed by domesticating the threat [it poses] to current beauty and health standards” (68). In other words, the fat female body can be made “safe and unthreatening” (68), so long as it achieves acceptable norms of feminine beauty.
- If fashion is problematic for LeBesco insofar as it is caught up with exploitative consumer culture and patriarchal beauty norms, it nevertheless continues to register as an important creative, self-definitive bodily practice for women. If we do not want to dismiss the potentially resistant aspects of fashion, then, following LeBesco, it seems necessary that we explore ways of ‘defying the tasteful,’ at the same time that we participate in fashion and fatshion. How do we both defy the tasteful and dress for success? I argue that we can accomplish this task by considering what has been called elsewhere a ‘feminist aesthetics of disgust.’ In her work on artist Jenny Saville’s representations of the fat female body, Michelle Meagher outlines a feminist aesthetics of disgust which would ask us to attend to our disgust reactions because “an immediate response like that of disgust has something to say about the way that a person inhabits the world” (29). Consequently, Meagher is wary of fat activist projects which reproduce forms of normative feminine beauty since these tactics also reproduce a cultural situation where “disgust itself has been rendered disgusting and shameful” (29). Although disgust is a bodily reaction, it is historically and socially constituted since the experience of disgust “reveals the ways in which social and cultural paradigms are experienced as personal preoccupations” (33). In attending to a feminist aesthetics of disgust, fat activist engagements with fashion may be able to tap into the potentially revolutionary capacities that fashion promises. Because fat women often experience their bodies in ambivalent, challenging ways, such as feeling disgusted with themselves, I therefore argue that an aesthetics of disgust offers ways for fat women to engage in liberatory, rather than merely assimilationist, fat activist practices (LeBesco, "Sexy").
-  See the following fatshion blogs: http://www.diyfatshion.com/, http://psitsfashion.com/, http://theplussideofme.com/, http://www.gabifresh.com/
- Select Bibliography
- Kent, Le’a. “Fighting Abjection: Representing Fat Women.” Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression. Eds. Jana Evans and Kathleen LeBesco. University of California Press: Berkeley, 2001. 130-150.
- LeBesco, Kathleen. “Revolution on a Rack: Fatness, Fashion, and Commodification.” Revolting Bodies?: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity. University of Massachusetts Press: Boston, 2004. 65-73.
- -----. "Sexy/Beautifu/Fat." Revolting Bodies?: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity. University of Massachusetts Press: Boston, 2004. 65-73. 40-53.
- Meagher, Michelle. “Jenny Saville and a Feminist Aesthetics of Disgust.” Hypatia 18.4(2003): 23-41.
- Murray, Samantha. The ‘Fat’ Female Body. Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2008.
- Session Chair: Amanda Gilliam, Columbia University
- Me Want Food: A Discourse Analysis of 30 Rock and the Fat Female Body
- JoAnna Murphy, Bowling Green State University
- Using a combination of fat studies, the social construction of the body, Foucauldian approaches to the body, and cultural sociology, this paper examines discourses about the fat female body in 30 Rock. The body is carnal and fleshy, but it is also socially constructed; this social construction has a long and deep cultural social history, and its power is particularly apparent with regard to the devaluation of the fat female body. By combining multiple theoretical approaches, a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of discourses about the fat body emerges – suggesting that even when shows such as 30 Rock engage with counter-hegemonic discourses about the body such as fat acceptance, they may revert to hegemonic and heteronormative standards of beauty and the fat body.
- A Healthy BET?: Black Entertainment Television & Fat Refusal
- Melissa Zimdars, University of Iowa
- Television programs prescribing weight-loss are far from being in short supply these days. But beyond programming content with messages of weight-loss, one channel is intensifying its efforts toward making its audience “healthier.” In 2003, the Black Entertainment Television (BET) channel developed a foundation with the explicit goal of reducing “obesity” rates among African American women. From public service announcement to fitness challenges, BET’s actions and government partnerships foster a paternalistic relationship between itself and its viewers. This relationship reflects popular discourses that frame African American women, in particular, as being problematically complicit in their own fatness and unable-- or unwilling-- to “help” themselves. Ultimately, the logics behind BET’s foundation development and subsequent actions work to limit the agency of audience members over their own bodies, and frame fat acceptance as a contributor to the “obesity epidemic” in African American communities.
- White Supremacy, Fat Hurdles and Thin Privilege in Media Representation: A Layered Model for Media Hegemony and Effect
- Rev. Dr. E.-K. Daufin, Alabama State University
- In her documentary Cultural Criticism and Transformation, prolific scholar Dr. bell hooks discusses how using the terms White supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism are more accurate than the terms racism, sexism and classism. This researcher proffers that slim privilege (the unearned advantages of being thin in a society stratified according to weight) and fat discrimination engendered, or intensified and/or perpetuated by popular culture is a combination of White supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. Furthermore, fat Black women are not exempt from the scourges of thin privilege and fat discrimination as some (even regional PCA/ACA) fat advocates assume but are additionally oppressed in the media/pop culture and thus American society.
- The “Layers of Unearned Privilege Rat Race Model of Media Effect” envisions how the media affect American culture…as a race track where we all race through the mediated “rat race” of life. In this life race, media representations and cultural (mis)interpretations of our physical appearance place hurdles in our paths. All of us are running the same race, but with hurdles of unequal number and height. The hurdles popular culture effect leaves in the paths of fat people, represent a big obstacle that is in addition to the hurdles posed by media racial and other hegemonies.
- This paper specifically explicates the size hurdles of the model…how thin privilege in media representation affects all people of size. That effect is compounded rather than relieved if the person of size also happens to be a white female and even more so, a sizeable woman of color.
- Mike & Molly -- A Dangerous Stereotype
- Maureen Johnson, Marshall University
- The show Mike & Molly on the surface seems to be attempting to debunk the stereotypes about fat in our society, but it actually perpetuates those stereotypes. In the lead characters, there are two common fat stereotypes: the fat, jolly guy in Mike and the angry dieting woman in Molly. These stereotypes are one way of disenfranchising fat people in a society that endorses thin as an ideal. By utilizing disability rhetoric as well as the work of Michel Foucault and bell hooks, this presentation will explore how television shows like Mike & Molly reinforce stigmas that continue to disenfranchise fat people in society, especially fat women who are fully integrated into two disenfranchised groups. Television shows, and other forms of culture, provide a guideline for societal behavior and by creating shows that perpetuates stigmas and stereotypes, it further disenfranchises fat people in society.
- Session Chair: Hali Sofala, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
- First Comes Diet Then Comes Marriage: The Journey of the Big, Fat Bride
- Hali Sofala, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
- (abstract not on PCA site)
- From thesis to teens: Bringing fat acceptance to high school
- Ashley Fullbrook, independent scholar
- There is extensive evidence to support the claim that rigid body norms negatively impact young people's emotional, social, and academic well-being. Teachers and schools have historically reinforced and continue to reinforce many social norms, including body and health norms, but this does not have to be the case. This paper follows the experience of one high school teacher applying to her own science teaching the insights gained from completing a Master's thesis on why and how fat acceptance could and should be taught and modelled in secondary classrooms. Explored are the reasoning behind the materials used in the class, the experience of delivering the materials, and the responses of the students to this subject matter. This represents a mobilization of secondary science education to reduce the number children and youth growing up with the notion that fatness equals loneliness, ugliness, and death.
- Fat Grrrls to the Front: Feminism, Fat Activism, and Zine Culture
- Jasie Stokes, University of Louisville
- The early history of the fat acceptance movement and its relationship to feminism is relatively well documented in Amy Erdman Farrell’s history Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture and in sociological studies such as Abigail Saguy’s “Coming Out as Fat.” However, there is a significant lack of research on some of the most influential strategies employed by fat feminist activists within the last twenty years. This later generation of activists was highly influenced by the earlier movement and its figures, but was also engaged in different kinds of cultural strategies that reflect a shift into the “third wave” of feminism, specifically, the use of underground and zine culture to promote consciousness-raising and community-building.
- Zines historian Stephen Duncombe defines zines as "noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves" (10-11). They play an important role in underground and subcultures as way of defining and communicating identity, and Enie Kaeh Garrison argues that the networking found in zine culture is “a critical concept in describing the movement, epistemology, and geography of third wave feminism" (387). Even before the widespread use of the Internet, the early 1990s saw a rising “democratization” of both music and print technologies as underground music labels and the increasing availability of computers and print shops such as Kinkos increased. These democratized technologies, according to Garrison, “become a resource enabling young women to get information to other young women, girls, and boys, a means of developing political consciousness, and a space that can legitimate girls’ issues” (388).
- This project uses primary and secondary sources to trace how feminist fat activists used zine culture in the 1990s and 2000s to combat both fat discrimination and to increase individual and social size acceptance. I received a travel grant to spend a few days at Barnard College's Zine Library in New York City this fall, and I examined about 15 different zines that address fat acceptance, body image, or fat activist strategies. My presentation will cover some of these zines and talk about how they were useful to the fat activist movement in the last twenty years.
- Session Chair: Stefanie Snider, Art Institute of Pittsbugh - Online Division
- Consumption and Morality in Tanya Mars' In Pursuit of Happiness
- Pamela Holberton
- Upon entering the atrium of the Vancouver Art Gallery on October 26, 2007, visitors to the fifth LIVE Performance Art Biennale encountered a mouthwatering dessert buffet, featuring creamy cheesecakes that glistened with glazed fruit, and fanciful, multi-tiered cakes smothered in frothy pastel icing. Framed by the atrium’s sweeping staircases, the buffet was a spectacle of decadence and excess, a visual as well as gustatory feast. At noon, two women stood at either end of the expansive table, surveying the overwhelming amount of dessert spread before them, bracing the backs of their respective chairs in anticipation of the ensuing labour of their performance – that is, to eat these desserts, without pause, from noon until midnight. This was the climactic performance of Tanya Mars’ In Pursuit of Happiness (see attached figure).
- With this work, Mars poses a number of questions: In this fat-phobic historical moment, what does it mean to comply with the capitalist imperative to over-consume? How does the act of consumption inscribe various meanings – socioeconomic, moral, and ecological – onto the body of the consumer? Or, more precisely, to what extent do these practices function to create socially significant subjectivities? How are these subjectivities affected by the consumer’s embodiment (that is, how would viewers read the work differently if the performers were fat or male)? Finally, how might problematic fat stereotypes that are created and perpetuated by late capitalist economic systems (for example, that fat consumers are in fact greedy and immoral overconsumers) be resisted?
- In pursuing these lines of inquiry, it is necessary to carefully consider the specific media that Mars utilizes to explore issues of consumption: fatty foods. The use-value of food as an interrogative tool with which to investigate capitalist overconsumption is obvious. However, I contend that these specific media are imbued with a kind of semiotic power, their fat symbolizing the fat bodies that they are presumed to create. Therefore, by considering the significance of Mars’ consumption not only of commodities, not only of foods-as-commodities, but of luxurious desserts, one can open up In Pursuit of Happiness to a number of discursive analyses that intersect around questions of socioeconomic, moral, and bodily anxieties. Thus, my reading of Mars’ performance will attempt to unpack its various layers of meaning, starting with its fundamental interrogation of late capitalism by referencing Jean-Joseph Goux’s analysis of the “capitalism of abundance.” I will then consider food’s unusual status within this economic system as a commodity that we are told to both consume endlessly but also with unwavering restraint. Finally, after demonstrating that In Pursuit of Happiness subtly exposes the source of our fraught relationships with fatty foods by representing the “immoral” eating body, I will argue that Mars utilizes the micro-economy of the dessert buffet as a critical space in which to interrogate and subvert the problematic fat subjectivities that are created by these capitalist economic structures.
- An Obeast Walks into a Museum: The Politics of Fat Oppression, Performing the Other, and Museum Display in Rachel Herrick’s Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies
- Stefanie Snider, Art Institute of Pittsbugh - Online Division
- The production of visual representations of fatness and fat people is an important concrete and symbolic step toward fat liberation. North Carolina-based artist Rachel Herrick recently completed her MFA degree with an incredibly comprehensive exhibition entitled Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies (2010-2012). Actually performed by and modeled on her own body, Herrick’s obeast is part cultural satire and part conceptual artwork; its attendant Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies is a museological parody that pokes fun of the many ways in which fat people have been ridiculed in contemporary social and scientific arenas. This paper will explore the implications for Herrick's MOCS project by exploring her use of strategies that challenge the conventions of objective knowledge and fatphobic and colonialist discourse.
- From Fashion Plate to Fat Haircuts: implicating the audience in the performance of fat art.
- Cindy Baker, University of Lethbridge (Canada)
- Fat Haircuts is a new bookwork in which I ask the public to engage with notions of beauty. In my presentation I’ll compare this work against Fashion Plate, an older project that invited the audience to create original clothing for me, and discuss shifts in dynamic in the ways in which others are implicated in the creation of the work, comparing strategies for opening the discourse around making room for the taboo body.
- Coming from the ‘outsider’ position of a queer woman with a fat body, I make work that challenges normative standards of the body, beauty ideals, gender and sexuality. Coming from the ‘insider’ position of an artist who’s worked for 15 years within the gallery system, my work addresses the gallery and the roles people play within it, including the performance of expected viewership behaviour.
- Key methods I employ in my practice include intervention and collaboration, allowing me to work simultaneously from within and without. Implicating others in the creation of my work facilitates destabilizing the centre that I am intervening into, making room for the other.
- In order to take a critical role in the consumption of my own image, I actively address the body throughout my work. Rejecting the notion of society’s arbitrary beauty standard, I create work that questions the rarified body and position of the artist. Through denying my centrality as the locus of the performance, I substitute others’ bodies, knowledge and expertise in place of my own.
Fat Studies: Fat Health and Science
- Session Chair: Julia McCrossin, independent scholar
- Preventing a Fat Future: Concern Trolls, Healthism, and the New Eugenics Concern
- Kristin Rodier, University of Alberta (Canada)
- Concern trolling, a practice of stigmatizing non-normative bodies in terms of “care for health” is a new term for an increasingly accepted phenomenon. When Jennifer Livingston, a fat news anchor, was concern trolled by Kenneth Krause in 2012, she very publicly pushed back against his words. Krause wrote:
- "I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits a person can maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you will reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle."
- Livingston’s subsequent shaming of Krause reached wide internet circulation and has been championed as a stellar performance of anti-bullying advocacy, however, from a critical fat studies perspective her response leaves something to be desired. Livingston equates Krause’s concern trolling with bullying and evokes innocent children who would be victims of people like Krause. Krause also invokes innocent children who might view Livingston and believe that her embodiment is acceptable, which implies the view that fatness can be made acceptable through mere representation. He is a representative of a new eugenics of health; encouraging certain kinds of bodies over others by guarding against future fat children for the sake of our nation, society, and moral life as we know it.
- Livingston’s push back cited medical reasons for being fat—enacting what LeBesco has argued is the “will to innocence” of biological explanations for fatness (2004, 112). She also shamed her concern troll for being a bully. He wasn’t just any kind of bully, however, he was deploying powerful interconnected systems of fat hatred to ground a new eugenics of health. Livingston’s response allowed the video to be understood as a clear case of good versus evil; an innocent victim and her evil bully. She said:
- "Attacks like this are not OK…The truth is, I am overweight. You could call me fat, and, yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart…Do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see?...You know nothing about me other than what you see on the outside."
- What if instead we thought of her response as the only one available to her in a socio-cultural milieu that privileges healthy and slim bodies and the supposed healthy habits that contribute to them? What kinds of radical spaces could be opened in a discussion of health if Livingston had said she deserves the right to visibility irrespective of the causal reasons for her fatness? What kinds of risks and inevitabilities inhabit claiming the right to visibility for fat subjects?
- Livingston’s response also reflects the impairment/disability divide in disability studies because she maintains the stigma of fat bodies by not challenging the social meaning of her fatness. I discuss this example because of a very provocative question raised by Kathleen LeBesco in her article “Quest for a Cause: The Fat Gene, the Gay Gene, and the New Eugenics.” She asks; “How does the potential for prenatal genetic diagnosis of obesity or homosexuality raise the specter of consumer eugenics within our normalizing sociocultural environment?” Even though a genetic test for obesity eludes increasingly profitable prenatal testing agencies, what can be said about the symbolic children invoked in the concern troll’s appeal? Would they be better off aborted than to grow up as fat and go on to have more fat children? Livingston and her bully agree that she would be better off not fat, and thus agrees with what Talia Welsh has called “the good health imperative.”
- In light of surveys that suggest that upwards of half of new parents would abort their child if they could be certain the child would be fat, our new consumer relationship with eugenic tools—even if imaginary—make it fairly obvious that the problems of the past, i.e., quests for racial purity and genetic superiority are still with us. Anecdotal evidence that fat women are increasingly encouraged to abort their child because their doctors exaggerate the maternal health risks asks women to collude in their own biological dying out. They are asked to be good subjects who take on their “disease” of obesity and try to ward off disease in future generations, effectively being asked to guard against a fat future to maintain the sorts of people that are valued in contemporary Western society.
- Select Bibliography
- Campbell, Fiona K. "Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness", Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
- LeBesco, Kathleen. “Quest for a Cause: The Fat Gene, the Gay Gene, and the New Eugenics.” in The Fat Studies Reader, Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay, eds. New York, NY, New York UP: 2009.
- --. Revolting Bodies?: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity, Massachusetts UP: 2004
- Livingston, Jennifer. “Response” WKBT, 2012
- Welsh, Talia. “Healthism and the Bodies of Women: Pleasure and Discipline in the War against Obesity.” Journal of Feminist Scholarship, 1.0(2011): 33-48.
-  First person stories of scare tactics used against pregnant fat women can be found here, though not all have been told to abort, the exaggerated health effects of “excess weight” on top of pregnancy weight are used to discourage women from being pregnant (before and after they actually are). http://fathealth.wordpress.com/category/pregnancy/
- The Body-Mass-Index (BMI) as an Instrument of Power: The Evolution of Body Weight Measurement and its Implications on Current Understandings of “Body Identities”
- Debora Lea Frommeld, Ulm University (Germany)
- Since 1997, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the “global obesity epidemic”, “overweight” and “obesity” are treated as serious public health problems. Subsequently, numerous studies explored the “weighty” role of the Body-Mass-Index (BMI) as the most important indicator of body fatness and predictor of morbidity and mortality. Based on an analysis of selected historical European and US-American documents (medical and statistical textbooks and articles), self-help-books and advertisement, I claim that our definition of “obesity”, is a biopolitical, global construction with a long historical background. Our prevailing understanding of overweight and obesity, linked with the BMI, relies on “technologies of power” (Foucault) that were once planned to rule people and populations. It shall be argued that these “technologies of power” started as political efforts of measuring soldiers and children in institutions. The protection against “abnormality” (e.g. “overweight”) and the medicalization of obesity seems to be the logical consequence nowadays. For example, in Germany, BMI metrics have become the obligatory standard: People are not given the civil-servant status if they have got a BMI over 25 (“overweight”). BMI categories like “underweight”, “normal weight” and “overweight” group people and lead to three different “body identities”. In my presentation, I will show the connection between underlying “technologies of power” and their implication in the way people deal with these different “body identities”. Special emphasis will be put on the way how we are today – willingly and unwillingly – forced to measure and reduce our body weight.
- Visual Representations of Fatness in Health Textbooks for Teens
- Laura Jennings, University of South Carolina - Upstate
- This paper addresses findings of a study of school health textbooks aimed at teens. The study was inspired by my family's own experience with negative portrayals of fatness in my son's required high school health text. To see if such negative visual representations of fatness and fat people are widespread, and to attempt to gauge the likely effects of portrayals of fatness on young students (particularly fat students), I analyzed a convenience sample comprised of the five teen health textbooks in the library of the School of Education at my university. My PCA presentation will show and discuss the illustrations from this study, paying particular attention to representation, underrepresentation, and tone and juxtaposition of representations of fatness and fat people, with emphasis on the implications of the findings for students exposed to these texts.
- "Suicide by Fat": Body Worlds and the exhibition of the fat corpse
- Joyce Huff, Ball State University
- “I'm just amazed at how this person was being squished by his fat…No more fast food for me.”
- “I'm grossed out…It makes me want to lose weight really badly.”
- These are few of the responses to the Body Worlds 2 exhibit “Suicide by Fat: Obesity Revealed,” as reported by the L. A. Times. In 1977, German scientist Gunther von Hagens developed a technique for preserving corpses, which he called plastination. Nearly two decades later, the first Body Worlds exhibit opened. It featured a display of over 200 preserved human bodies, called plastinates. The promoters of Body Worlds claim that their exhibit offers health education in two different ways: “On the one hand, individual specimens are used to compare healthy and diseased organs, i.e., a healthy lung with that of a smoker, to emphasize the importance of a healthy life-style. On the other hand, life-like posed whole-body plastinates illustrate where in our bodies these organs are positioned and what we are: naturally fragile in a mechanized world.” In other words, the display of bodies deemed “normal” gives a scientific lesson in human anatomy, while, in contrast, the display of “abnormal” bodies serves as a morality play on “the importance of a healthy lifestyle.” In both cases, a peek into the interior of the body is assumed to produce the “truth” of the body. This essay will use Foucauldian and “freak show” theory to unpack the exhibit of the specimen entitled, “Suicide by Fat: Obesity Revealed.”
- Session Chair: Julia McCrossin
- Critics: Lynne Gerber University of California – Berkeley; Laura Jennings, University of South Carolina – Upstate; Michaela A. Nowell
- This moderated roundtable panel brings together author Natalie Boero and three academics to discuss the important recent release of Boero's Killer Fat (Rutgers UP, 2012, 192 p.). Two sociology professors, and one religious studies professor will discuss with Associate Professor of Sociology Boero about her new book, and provide insight into why this text is so important to the field of fat studies, as well as health and medicine, communication/media studies, sociology, and American studies, among other fields.
- Session Chair: LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant, Williams College
- Critics: Susan Hill, University of Northern Iowa; Anthony Petro, Boston University
- Fat Studies critically examines societal attitudes towards appearance and body weight, and as such, is forced to wrestle with the implications of weight loss programming, ‘thin’ body ideals, and the moral implications of bodily ‘excess.’ Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America by Lynne Gerber (University of Chicago Press, 2011), describes how morality, sexuality and fat merge in evangelical Christian communities where losing weight and changing ones sexual orientation are viewed as godly ideals. Drawing on qualitative research of the ex-gay ministry Exodus International and the popular Christian weight-loss program First Place, Seeking the Straight and Narrow provides an account of the intersections of fatness, bodily desire, popular culture, and religion. This book is important because of its use of ethnography to make connections between morality, religion, and fat; because of its examination of how contemporary evangelical Christians engage the dominant culture; and also for the ways it shifts conversations about engagement of the fat body beyond a moral/immoral divide. In this author-meets-critics panel, scholars of religion, fatness, and culture will engage the book’s arguments and generate a critical dialogue with the author.
- Session Chair: Lesleigh Owen, Black Hills State University
- I would like to organize and facilitate an informal, roundtable discussion about the job market for fat studies scholars. A handful of fat studies scholars will offer assistance, guidance, and advice as we spend a session discussing strategies for finding a job in academia and elsewhere.
- Session Chair: Julia McCrossin
- Panelists: Joyce Huff, Ball State University; Erec Smith, Ursinus College; Kristin Rodier, University of Alberta (Canada); Mycroft Masada Holmes, independent scholar
- This round table will provide an opportunity for panelists and audience members to dialogue on the often problematic and erased topic of fat sexuality. In fat academic, activist, and social circles, fat sexuality as practice, as desire, and as pleasure, is a realm of discussion that has yet to be fully fleshed out. What is the history of fat bodies and their relation to these questions? Do fat positive individuals have an obligation to possess certain desires, certain aesthetic parameters, in order to further the destigmatization of fat bodies? What role does the non-fat sexual partner have in advancing fat positivity and the demarginalization of fat people as desirable subjects? Are some fat people in fact practicing a distinct sexuality, rather than replicating existing norms along a heterosexual/homosexual axis? The round table promises to provide ample audience participation, and we look forward to a wide open discussion of fat sexuality.
- Session Chair: Katariina Kyrola, Media Studies - Stockholm University (Sweden)
- Towards a New Relationality: Queer(ed) Temporality, Shame and the Digital Fat Subject
- Majida Kargbo, Brown University
- This paper argues that new media is particularly crucial for rethinking the fat body. The digitization of the fat activist movement enacts a crucial shift away from (primarily) linguistic interventions to image-based counter-narratives. The emphasis on the image allows participants to not simply engage in body positivity, but provides a space, I argue, for a radical reorientation and reimagining of the role of abjection such that the encounter with shame and disgust (affective responses often experienced by both the fat subject and the viewer of the fat body) can transform not only the perception of the fat bodies in the image, but the viewers body as well. What if these sites enact a kind of “embarrassing intimacy” with the fat body that does not entirely function to dispel discomfort, but instead uses the uneasiness felt by both fat and non-fat subjects to queer the relationality with our own bodies and with others’? I will use phenomenology, performance studies and queer theory to interrogate fat online community-making and expand on the theorization of fat embodiment in the emerging field of Fat Studies.
- Neoliberal (Gendered) Bodies and Fatness
- Hannele Harjunen, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)
- The body has been at the centre of intensive sociological and feminist inquiry at least since the 1980s. Social, political, and moral aspects of the body have been investigated. Especially, the Foucauldian disciplining side of the body has been in focus: how discourses and discursive practices produce normative bodies, how bodies are governed and how technologies of power produce gendered bodies and subjects. So far the economic dimension of the body has been rarely examined in social scientific and/or feminist research on the body. Yet, bodies are inevitably produced by the economic conditions and the approach that prevail. Neoliberal, capitalist model relies on a disembodied analysis of the social world; the analysis relies on numbers, indexes, measures, figures, budgets, and profits. The materiality of the body and the experiences and the needs of the body are often ignored or deemed less important in analysis than “objective” measures. “Obesity” and “obese” bodies particularly have been in the focus of policies and sanctions that follow neoliberalistic reason. My objective here is to look into the production of the “neoliberal body” and how the neoliberal economic discourse and discursive practice work on the fat body. My aim is to generate knowledge on both the bodily experience of fatness and the social, political, cultural orders that shape, define, and govern said experiences.
- [Be]longing: Headless Fatties and Reconceptualizing Intersectionality with Affect Theory
- Julia Rogers, University of California - San Diego
- The “Headless Fatty” photo is a familiar motif within media and public health depictions of fatness. Such illustrations make strong claims about the identities and [be]long(ing) of fat bodies. This paper analyzes the “headless fatty” icon from an embodied intersectional analysis standpoint. The author will argue that such photos have a particular raced, classed and gendered identity signified through their composure, which attempt to build a public consciousness of “what fat is” - while erasing the complex, multifaceted identities present within fatness. This paper combines content analysis with theory building to illustrate the need for a new mode of intersectional analysis within fat studies. By exploring the theoretical and rhetorical possibilities created [and erased] when fatness is used within intersectional analysis, the author argues for a more complex understanding of both fat identity and intersectional analysis. This paper seeks to revitalize the often misused and overused term “intersectionality” by first returning to the roots of intersection theory through a rereading of Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” which puts Crenshaw into conversation with Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Queer Theory. In exploring the original motivation for intersection theory, this paper also explore the ways that Fat Acceptance as Social Movement recapitulates the Women’s Movement in terms of process, coalition building and embodied meaning making. This paper treats intersectional identity as a Framing Technique and urges researchers and activists to move past intersectionality as additive or multiplicative and instead explore interesectionality as embodied experience. By winding theory building throughout an exploration of a familiar icon the author pushes intersectional identity to encompass more than a compilation of identity signifiers, and incorporate desire and affect as aspects of identity that complicate and reaffirm the need for intersectional analysis.
- Session Chair: Lesleigh Owen, Black Hills State University
- Thinness is Next to Godliness: "The Homeric Hymn to Hermes" as "Origin Story" for Fat Hate.
- Erec Smith, Ursinus College
- Patricia Hill’s Eating to Excess explores gluttony and its relationship to fat in antiquity. Her exploration leads to the Greek mythological character, Heracles, presented as a “trickster” figure because of his tendency to traverse the boundaries of fit classic hero and comic glutton. His trickster status complicates the fat/glutton confluence, pitting gluttony as the worse offense and showing that gluttons need not be fat.
- Although Hill’s use of Herakles is insightful and clever, she misses the significance of “trickster-ism” to current fears of fatness. She stops short in her exploration of trickster figures, for she ignores the designated trickster of Greek mythology: Hermes.
- “The Homeric Hymn to Hermes” not only has appetite as a main focus, but strongly suggests that the denial of appetite is tantamount to transcendence. “The Hymn” gives us insight into the deep-seated motivations of our anti-fat society. Hermes fasts to prove his superhuman status to the gods in order to attain access to Mt. Olympus. This is reminiscent of Aristotle’s claim that complete restraint from the pleasures of consumption is impossible to all humans. Thus, denying appetite is next to Godliness.
- Thus, Hill’s use of the trickster figure is incomplete. As a way to describe the skinny glutton, she acknowledges the trickster trait of floating signifiers and, from a contemporary Western perspective, irony. However, she misses the fact that Hermes—and contemporary Western society—changed the meaning of food from something to sustain human life to something to avoid in order to transcend human life.
- Embodying the Poem, or Poeming the Body
- Lesleigh Owen, Black Hills State University
- I have four poems, titles listed below, that I would like to present. Each poem grapples with the very real real, visceral experience of moving fat bodies through a thin-centric world. Each poem, in its own, way, documents what it means for fat bodies to define the space they occupy, to resculpt definitions of sexiness, exclusion, and empowerment.
- Just by existing, just by moving through a public world created to exclude and deride fatness, fat bodies are political art.
- 1. A Blood Poem
- 2. Bread Crumbs
- 3. Desert Life
- 4. Diary
- Reducing Shakespeare: Popular Representations of Shakespeare in the Victorian Era
- Elena Levy-Navarro, University of Wisconsin - Whitewater
- “A self-satisfied pork butcher”: thus did Shakespeare’s most famous twentieth-century biographer dismiss the memorial bust in Trinity Church, Stratford, the bust which had been the culmination of many a bardolaters pilgrimage. Schoenbaum’s comments are the culmination of more than a hundred years of disappointed people, who could not accept that this memorial represented an accurate representation of the Bard as he was in the flesh (even though it is only one of two contemporary representations of him and thus presumably of more authority). In my presentation, I propose to discuss two related phenomenon of Victorian responses to the Shakespearean figure. First, I will briefly outline the growing negative response to the Trinity Church Bust, as a representation that could not capture the true, aristocratic, and poetic character of Shakespeare. Second, I will briefly discuss popular representations of Shakespeare that emerge in the nineteenth century, which make Shakespeare aristocratic and refined, in large part by thinning him. In both of these inter-related cultural phenomenon, we see the emergence of a uniquely modern fatphobia.
- The (In)Visible Fat Body in Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle
- Michelle Green, University of Nottingham (United Kingdom)
- Using spatial theory from Michel Foucault and the fiction of Margaret Atwood, in this paper I will explore how body weight, like gender, status, and background, can alter the experience of spatial reality. Inspired by Foucault’s theory of heterotopic spaces, I will introduce the concept of the clinic, the gallery, and the prison as heterotopias of hunger. Heterotopias function as parallel spaces that contain undesirable bodies to make a real 'utopian' space outside possible. In heterotopias of hunger, starving, fasting bodies are placed on public or institutional display and participate in a series of reflected gazes. The study of fasting bodies, explored by Patrick Anderson, Maud Ellmann and Sarah Sceats, has predominantly focused on performance, subjectivity, and the notion that ‘anorexia is presented as a condition that, at some level, demands to be witnessed’ (Sceats, 2001, p.72). Expanding on these ideas, I will explore how the relationship between visibility, spectatorship, and the thin body is sustained outside of these heterotopic theatres and immersed in the socio-economic value system: the spectacle of thinness is not just theatrically enacted in the heterotopic theatre, but on the streets, in the workplace, and in fact, everywhere. Through Margaret Atwood’s 'Lady Oracle' (1976) I will explore how female spatial experience is affected by the thin and fat body, and the phenomenon of 'thin visibility' and 'fat invisibility', an issue of increasing debate since 'The Invisible Woman' by W. Charisse Goodman. In 'Lady Oracle' Atwood explores the ambivalence towards de-gendered (in)visibility, and the possibilities of spatial freedom when excluded from the socio-economic value system. Furthermore, in my concluding thoughts I will extend this analysis and consider the fat body as marginal and ageless, with unmonitored access to private cultural spaces regardless of youth and legality, thus dislocated from normative experiences of both space and time.