Students could soon see courses in “Fat Studies” in their schedule of classes if a group of academics and activists has its way.
Fat Studies scholars attempt to examine the political and social consequences of being overweight in much the same way that academics have turned their attention to other marginalized groups like women and the queer community.
For those who focus on fat, the discrimination faced by those who are overweight is the same as those discriminated against on the basis of race and sexuality.
Society as a whole has determined that thin is “normal” in the same way that those who are white or those who are heterosexual are “normal.” Fat studies proponents are trying to change that.
Organizations that look to examine and break down the prejudices and stereotypes placed on overweight persons have begun to spring up across the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
One of the most notable of these organizations is Size Matters, an “anti-sizeism” and positive body image organization founded at Smith College in 2004.
According to the organization’s Web site, Size Matters seeks “to create an empowered space, not just for fat people, but for all people regardless of size.”
The group’s constitution lists the organization’s goals as encouraging size-positive policies at Smith College, dispelling “sizeist stereotypes” and facilitating a healthy body image regardless of size.
In its attempt to do this, Size Matters has sponsored “Love Your Body Day” and “Fat and the Academy,” a conference on fat studies and fat liberation.
The conference, held this past spring, featured lectures and events facilitating debate on fat discrimination, body image and fat studies within the queer community.
But while Fat Studies has gained popularity and attention, not all of the attention has been positive. Bloggers and traditional journalists, alike, have questioned the field’s legitimacy.
They have also questioned whether it is smart to institutionalize the study of fat and fat acceptance when obesity and high body mass index have been shown to cause a variety of health problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 20 are considered obese. When that percentage is translated into numbers, over 60 million U.S. adults are obese.
Over nine million U.S. children are also obese, according to the CDC’s website.
The CDC also points out that being overweight increases a person’s risks for stroke, hypertension, heart disease and cancer.
Robyn Russo, a Master’s candidate in English at Georgetown University, pointed out the health risks of obesity when asked about the importance of Fat Studies.
“I come from a family that suffers from Type II diabetes because they are overweight. I think that we might be taking PC a little too far considering the very real health risks of obesity,” Russo said.
Russo, however, said she would be interested in learning about fat studies as part of a larger social studies course.
“We have a standard of beauty that’s impossible,” Russo said. “I think it’s important to talk about body image.”