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The Fat Studies Reader

Esther Rothblum, Sondra Solovay, Marilyn Wann

Publication Year: 2009

Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology

Winner of the 2010 Susan Koppelman Award for the Best Edited Volume in Women’s Studies from the Popular Culture Association

We 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.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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Foreword: Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution

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pp. xi-xxv

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). ...


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pp. xxvii

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pp. 1-7

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? ...

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Part I: What Is Fat Studies? The Social and Historical Construction of Fatness

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pp. 9

This section serves as an invitation to think about the framing of fatness in its historical context and to understand the central tenets of the field of fat studies. The authors pose challenges regarding approaching this field with the needed rigor despite vehement anti-fat attitudes and indoctrination. ...

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1. The Inner Corset: A Brief History of Fat in the United States

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pp. 11-14

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. ...

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2. Fattening Queer History: Where Does Fat History Go from Here?

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pp. 15-22

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...

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Part II: Fat Studies in Health and Medicine

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pp. 23

Much of the justification for the negative treatment of fatness and fat people rests on arguments related to health and medicine. Exploring the research on health and weight in detail is a project much larger than the scope of this section of The Fat Studies Reader. ...

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3. Does Social Class Explain the Connection Between Weight and Health?

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pp. 25-36

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...

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4. Is “Permanent Weight Loss” an Oxymoron? The Statistics on Weight Loss and the National Weight Control Registry

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pp. 37-40

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...

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5. What Is “Health at Every Size”?

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pp. 41-53

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,...

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6. Widening the Dialogue to Narrow the Gap in Health Disparities: Approaches to Fat Black Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health Promotion

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pp. 54-64

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...

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7. Quest for a Cause: The Fat Gene, the Gay Gene, and the New Eugenics

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pp. 65-74

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...

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8. Prescription for Harm: Diet Industry Influence, Public Health Policy, and the “Obesity Epidemic”

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pp. 75-87

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,...

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9. Public Fat: Canadian Provincial Governments and Fat on the Web

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pp. 88-96

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...

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10. That Remains to Be Said: Disappeared Feminist Discourses on Fat in Dietetic Theory and Practice

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pp. 97-105

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...

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11. Fatness (In)visible: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and the Rhetoric of Normative Femininity

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pp. 106-109

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...

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Part III: Fatness as Social Inequality

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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...

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12. Fat Kids, Working Moms, and the “Epidemic of Obesity: ”Race, Class, and Mother Blame

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pp. 113-119

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). ...

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13. Fat Youth as Common Targets for Bullying

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pp. 120-126

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...

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14. Bon Bon Fatty Girl: A Qualitative Exploration of Weight Bias in Singapore

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pp. 127-138

“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. ...

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15. Part-Time Fatso

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pp. 139-142

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. ...

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16. Double Stigma: Fat Men and Their Male Admirers

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pp. 143-150

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...

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17. The Shape of Abuse: Fat Oppression as a Form of Violence Against Women

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pp. 151-157

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, anti- fat bias is particularly salient in the...

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18. Fat Women as “Easy Targets”: Achieving Masculinity Through Hogging

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pp. 158-166

“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...

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19. No Apology: Shared Struggles in Fat and Transgender Law

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pp. 167-175

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. ...

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20. Access to the Sky: Airplane Seats and Fat Bodies as Contested Spaces

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pp. 176-186

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...

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21. Neoliberalism and the Constitution of Contemporary Bodies

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pp. 187-196

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...

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22. Sitting Pretty: Fat Bodies, Classroom Desks, and Academic Excess

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pp. 197-204

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...

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23. Stigma Threat and the Fat Professor: Reducing Student Prejudice in the Classroom

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pp. 205-212

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. ...

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24. Fat Stories in the Classroom: What and How Are They Teaching About Us?

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pp. 213-220

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,...

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Part IV: Size-ism in Popular Culture and Literature

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pp. 221

Our cultural context is rich in messages about what fat means for people, their worth, and their worthiness. Social attitudes are constantly informed by these messages. Popular culture and literature provide ample opportunities to reflect on the representation and construction of fatness...

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25. Fat Girls and Size Queens: Alternative Publications and the Visualizing of Fat and Queer Eroto-politics in Contemporary American Culture

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pp. 223-230

In the zines FaT GiRL: A Zine for Fat Dykes and the Women Who Want Them and Size 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...

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26. Fat Girls Need Fiction

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pp. 231-234

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. ...

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27. Fat Heroines in Chick-Lit: Gateway to Acceptance in the Mainstream?

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pp. 235-240

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). ...

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28. The Fat of the (Border)land: Food, Flesh, and Hispanic Masculinity in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

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pp. 241-248

“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’s Death Comes for the Archbishop (1990a, p. 299). ...

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29. Placing Fat Women on Center Stage

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pp. 249-255

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...

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30. “The White Man’s Burden”: Female Sexuality, Tourist Postcards, and the Place of the Fat Woman in Early 20th-Century U.S. Culture

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pp. 256-262

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. ...

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31. The Roseanne Benedict Arnolds: How Fat Women Are Betrayed by Their Celebrity Icons

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pp. 263-270

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. ...

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32. Jiggle in My Walk: The Iconic Power of the “Big Butt” in American Pop Culture

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pp. 271-279

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...

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33. Seeing Through the Layers: Fat Suits and Thin Bodies in The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal

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pp. 280-288

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 comedy Shallow Hal. Once novel, the fat suit is now just a regular part of the U.S. entertainment industry’s repertoire of...

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34. Controlling the Body: Media Representations, Body Size, and Self-Discipline

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pp. 289-296

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...

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Part V: Embodying and Embracing Fatness

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pp. 297

This section addresses the challenges and successes of reclaiming the fat body in movement through exercise and dance. The essays in this section present the perspective of fat people who created either conceptual or physical space where they were encouraged to embrace their fat bodies. ...

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35. “I’m Allowed to Be a Sexual Being”: The Distinctive Social Conditions of the Fat Burlesque Stage

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pp. 299-304

In modern burlesque performance, fat women’s bodies are both revealed in 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...

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36. Embodying Fat Liberation

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pp. 305-311

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. ...

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37. Not Jane Fonda: Aerobics for Fat Women Only

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pp. 312-319

Clad in high-cut leotards on the cover of her bestselling Workout Book and 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 ...

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38. Exorcising the Exercise Myth: Creating Women of Substance

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pp. 320-324

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,...

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Part VI: Starting the Revolution

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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...

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39. Maybe It Should Be Called Fat American Studies

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pp. 327-333

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...

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40. Are We Ready to Throw Our Weight Around? Fat Studies and Political Activism

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pp. 334-340

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...

Appendix A: Fat Liberation Manifesto, November 1973

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pp. 341-342

Appendix B: Legal Briefs

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pp. 343-350

About the Contributors

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pp. 351-357


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pp. 359-365

E-ISBN-13: 9780814777435
E-ISBN-10: 0814777430
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814776308
Print-ISBN-10: 0814776302

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2009