The Routledge International Handbook of Fat Studies
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The Routledge International Handbook of Fat Studies

Cat Pausé, Sonya Renee Taylor, Cat Pausé, Sonya Renee Taylor

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eBook - ePub

The Routledge International Handbook of Fat Studies

Cat Pausé, Sonya Renee Taylor, Cat Pausé, Sonya Renee Taylor

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About This Book

The Routledge International Handbook of Fat Studies brings together a diverse body of work from around the globe and across a wide range of Fat Studies topics and perspectives. The first major collection of its kind, it explores the epistemology, ontology, and methodology of fatness, with attention to issues such as gender and sexuality, disability and embodiment, health, race, media, discrimination, and pedagogy. Presenting work from both scholarly writers and activists, this volume reflects a range of critical perspectives vital to the expansion of Fat Studies and thus constitutes an essential resource for researchers in the field.

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Cat Pausé and Sonya Renee Taylor
Fat Studies is a post-disciplinary field of study that centres the fat body and lived experiences of fat people. “The field of fat studies can offer a revelatory new lens on the central human question of embodiment, a theoretical approach that will have direct political and social effects” (Wann, 2009, p. xxi). Fat Studies scholars identify and discuss mainstream and alternative discourses on fatness, analyse size as a social justice issue at the intersection of oppression, and critically appraise size oppression as it is manifested in various societal institutions (medicine, media, education, etc). In the inaugural issue of the Fat Studies journal, Editor-at-Large Esther Rothblum (2012) defines Fat Studies as “a field of scholarship that critically examines societal attitudes about body weight and appearance, and that advocated equality for all people with respect to body size … Fat studies scholars ask why we oppress people who are fat and who benefits from their oppression” (p. 3). In many calls for papers, this definition of the discipline can be found,
Fat Studies is an interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary field of study that confronts and critiques cultural constraints against notions of “fatness” and “the fat body”; explores fat bodies as they live in, are shaped by, and remake the world; and creates paradigms for the development of fat acceptance or celebration within mass culture. Fat Studies uses body size as the starting point for a wide-ranging theorization and explication of how societies and cultures, past and present, have conceptualized all bodies and the political/cultural meanings ascribed to every body. Fat Studies reminds us that all bodies are inscribed with the fears and hopes of the particular culture they reside in, and these emotions often are mislabeled as objective “facts” of health and biology. More importantly, perhaps, Fat Studies insists on the recognition that fat identity can be as fundamental and world-shaping as other identity constructs analyzed within the academy and represented in media.1
We are very proud to present this International Handbook of Fat Studies. Following the model of existing Handbooks, this collection is not intended as a textbook, but as a single-volume reference work aimed at academics and students working in Fat Studies as well as various fields of social science, health science, public health, popular culture, and current socio-political debates and trends. It is intended to be international in scope, both by addressing global and national issues, and in terms of scholars and activists enlisted as contributors.
Contributors to this Handbook hail from fifteen countries around the world. Many of the contributors responded to the call for papers (CFP) for this collection, while some were belly bumped to join. We expect this Handbook to challenge traditional ideas about fatness, review existing discourses about fatness, and produce new debates about fatness, in the context of the shifting and developing field of Fat Studies. We recognize, though, that there are gaps. Some of these gaps exist due to contributions that failed to materialize; some exist because of the paucity of scholarship on a singular topic. We have done our best to ensure that this Handbook represents a wide range of Fat Studies scholarship and activism.
In the Introduction to the Fat studies reader (2009), Solovay and Rothblum highlight important academic points in early Fat Studies as well as early activism points. In including key early U.S. activism in the chapter, they acknowledge the importance of fat activism to the field of Fat Studies and the production of fat knowledge, practices, and ethics. Wann (2009) argues that the field of Fat Studies “offers a crucial corollary to fat pride community and fat civil rights activism” (p. x). The inclusion and recognition of both academic and activist work in the space of Fat Studies is one of the greatest strengths of the discipline.
Long before there was a field of Fat Studies, fat activists were writing books about the fat experience and the need for fat liberation (Bovey, 1994; Erdman, 1996; Fraser, 1997; Garrison & Levitsky, 1993; Goodman, 1995; Louderback, 1970; Millman, 1980; Schoenfielder & Wieser, 1983; Thone, 1997; Wiley, 1994). The earliest of these is Lew Louderback’s Fat power; Loud-erback’s publication of the article, “More people should be FAT” in the Saturday Evening Post in 1967 was one of the precursors to the creation of the National Association to Advance Fat Americans (now known as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance). Most well-known is probably Marilyn Wann’s Fat!So? published in 1998 by Ten Speed Press. Ten Speed Press is one of the publishing houses that has proven itself to be relatively fat friendly; other friendly presses include Pearlsong Press and Demeter Press.
In addition, scholars were exploring fat stigma (Brown & Rothblum, 19892; DeJong, 1980; Harris et al., 1982; Larkin & Pines, 1979; Rothblum et al., 1988; Tiggemann & Rothblum, 1998), social constructions of fatness and health (Sobal & Maurer, 1999a, 1999b), the legal oppression of fat people (Solovay, 2000), fat history (Schwartz, 1986; Stearns, 1997), and fat identity (Braziel & LeBesco, 20013; Cooper, 1998). Many more were doing work that was critical of the obesity epidemic paradigm and disrupting common sense assumptions about fatness and fat people. Cooper (2010) attempts to “map the field” of Fat Studies as it emerged in her piece, “Fat Studies: Mapping the field”. We do not attempt to recreate her work here but would like to acknowledge many of the texts4 that have contributed to Fat Studies scholarship.
Important theoretical and empirical work has been done by LeBesco (2004), Kirkland (2008), Farrell (2011), Boero (2012), Kwan and Graves (2013), Gailey (2014), Whitesel (2014), Harjunen (2016), Kyrölä (2016), Murray (2008), Saguy (2014), and Cooper (2016). Ley-Navarro (2010) and Strings (2019) have published books that expand the scholarship beyond the traditionally white western framework in the field (see also the forthcoming Luna et al., 2020).
Edited texts have provided opportunities for scholars within the field to organize material around specific topics, such as education and pedagogy (Cameron & Russell, 2016), sex (Hester & Walters, 2015), motherhood (Verseghy & Abel, 2018), and queering fat embodiment (Pausé et al., 2014). Tomrley and Naylor’s (2009) Fat studies in the UK was an output of a one-day seminar in York hosted by the editors; in a similar fashion, Friedman, Rice, and Rinaldi (2019) brought together the contributors to Thickening fat for a two-day symposium at Ryerson University in 2018. The fat studies reader, published in 2009 by Rothblum and Solovay, has long been considered one of the formative texts in the discipline.
And many Fat Studies scholars and fat activists have material on hand from scholars whose work falls outside of our field, but aides us in making arguments relevant to fat liberation (for example, see Bacon, 2008; Campos, 2004; Gaesser, 2013; Gard, 2010; Gard & Wright, 2005; Oliver, 2006).
But the material that Fat Studies draws from has always included work from outside of the academy. Contributions to Fat Studies scholarship can be found in blogs, podcasts, documentaries, and more. For the purposes of this introduction, we thought we would present key published material that sits outside of the academy but is very much important to the field of Fat Studies.
Essays have long been used to explore fatness, fat bodies, and the lives of fat people (Chastain, 2014; Schoenfielder & Wieser, 1983; Wiley, 1994). Schoenfielder and Wieser’s (1983) Shadows on a tightrope: Writings by women on fat oppression is one of the earliest collections of writings by fat women; it includes articles, narratives, and poems. It also includes material that had been distributed by Fat Liberation Publications in the 1970s. Poetry (Donald, 1986; Nicols, 1984; Zellman, 2009) and fiction, including short stories (Holt & Leib, 2012; Jarrell & Sukrungruang, 2003; Koppelman, 2003; Thompson, 2019), have been another vehicle for material that questions the social construction of fatness and imagines a range of fat embodiments. Thompson (2019), for example, imagines a future world where fat people continue to be oppressed through new technologies and regulations; the stories end on a hopeful note, though, as we meet a character who rescues fat people from this future world and takes them somewhere else, someplace where they are liberated. Julie Murphy (2017, 2019) has published several young adult books featuring a fat protagonist and recently penned an origin story for the fat superheroine, Faith (2020).5 And Sarai Walker’s (2015) novel Dietland was made into a television series. Other fat positive television includes an adaptation of Murphy’s Dumplin’ for a Netflix film and an adaptation of Lindy West’s Shrill as a TV series on Hulu.
Non-fiction empowerment and self-help books have often sought to help individuals mitigate the personal impacts of fat oppression while offering critique and commentary regarding the social and systemic manifestations of fatphobia. Self-help books from fat activists range from personal stories with lessons (Baker, 2015, 2018; Hagen, 2019; Shanker, 2004; West, 2017) to more instructive texts (Blank 2011, 2012; Frater, 2005; Harding & Kirby, 2009; Kinzel, 2012; Lyons & Burgard, 1990; Taylor, 2018; Wann, 1998), although to be fair it is a difficult needle to thread. And memoir has long been a powerful vehicle for fat stories; from Cameron Manheim’s (2000) Wake up, I’m fat! to Pattie’s Thomas’s (2005) Taking up space; fat memoir seems to be having a particular resurgence at present, with several titles being released recently (Byer, 2020; Cottom, 2019; Dark, 2019; Gay 2018; Laymon, 2019) or slated for release (Cox, 2020; Yeboah, 2020).
For decades fat activists and scholars have sought to make visible the experiences and barriers of fat life. This Handbook sits alongside these contributions and attempts to bring together the decades of work done in the service of understanding the fat condition and achieving fat liberation.

Fat activism

If the work of Fat Studies is to confront and critique cultural constraints against notions of “fatness” and “the fat body” and explore fat bodies as they live in, are shaped by, and remake the world; and theorize how society conceptualizes and pathologizes fat bodies; then the fat activist has been charged and continues to answer the question of “what then?” As Amy Farrell posits in her chapter “Feminism and fat”:
Feminists across the spectrum (radical, liberal, cultural, socialist, African American, lesbian) and in various formats (Ms. magazine, Combahee River Collective, Redstockings, the protests against the Miss America Pageant) argued that the beauty industries exploited women financially, sapped their energy, turned them into objects for male pleasure, and hurt their bodies and souls.
(p. 54)
To this end, activists, armed with this information, have led in the work of boycott initiatives and retail disruption. Activists have shouted down actions of an oppressive and exploitative beauty industry and specifically fat activists have translated and amplified the knowledge of academia so that it might operate in the realm of social change.
In the conclusion of the chapter “Fat and trans”, Francis Ray White proposes, “As a necessarily unfixed location, then, fat/trans can perhaps operate as the juncture that reveals the unsustainability of separating gender and fat for anyone”(p. 86). If indeed fat/trans academic theory illuminates the unsustainable nature of positioning the two as unrelated, it is the fat trans activist who has been charged with creating the conditions that shift the fixed understanding and interpretations of gender and weight through challenging the social, political and economic artifices of our society.
Current fat activist groups can be located around the world, including the Political Fatties in Greece, Taller Hacer La Vista Gorda in...

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