The Fat Pedagogy Reader
Challenging Weight-Based Oppression Through Critical Education
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Part One: Storying Fat Pedagogy
- Chapter One: Picking the Bones
- Chapter Two: Fat Invisibility, Fat Hate: Towards a Progressive Pedagogy of Size
- Chapter Three: “How Can You Be Teaching This?”: Tears, Fears, and Fat
- Chapter Four: Reflections on Thin Privilege and Responsibility
- Part Two: Practicing Fat Pedagogies
- Chapter Five: Promise to Try: Combating Fat Oppression Through Pedagogy in Tertiary Education
- Chapter Six: Teaching Fat Studies in a Liberal Arts College: The Centrality of Mindfulness, Deep Listening, and Empathic Interpretation as Pedagogic Methods
- Chapter Seven: Weapons of Mass Distraction in Teaching Fat Studies: “But Aren’t They Unhealthy? And Why Can’t They Just Lose Weight?”
- Chapter Eight: Creating Space for a Critical Examination of Weight-Centered Approaches in Health Pedagogy and Health Professions
- Chapter Nine: The Enemy Within: Teaching “Hard Knowledges” About “Soft Bodies” in a Kinesiology Faculty
- Chapter Ten: “Obesity” Warriors in the Tertiary Classroom
- Part Three: Researching Fat Pedagogies
- Chapter Eleven: Fat Bullying of Girls in Elementary and Secondary Schools: Implications for Teacher Education
- Chapter Twelve: Critical Pedagogical Strategies to Disrupt Weight Bias in Schools
- Chapter Thirteen: Recognizing and Representing Bodies of Difference Through Art Education
- Chapter Fourteen: Moving Beyond Body Image: A Socio-Critical Approach to Teaching About Health and Body Size
- Chapter Fifteen: Promoting Physical Activity for All Shapes and Sizes
- Chapter Sixteen: Inclusion of Fat Studies in a Difference, Power, and Discrimination Curriculum
- Chapter Seventeen: Learning to Teach Every Body: Exploring the Emergence of a Critical “Obesity” Pedagogy
- Chapter Eighteen: An “Intervention” Into Public Health Interventions: Questioning the Weight-Based Paradigm
- Chapter Nineteen: Mitigating Weight Stigma Through Health Professional Education
- Part Four: Expanding Fat Pedagogies
- Chapter Twenty: Fat Studies in the Field of Higher Education: Developing a Theoretical Framework and Its Implications for Research and Practice
- Chapter Twenty One: We Take “Cow” as a Compliment: Fattening Humane, Environmental, and Social Justice Education
- Chapter Twenty Two: A Tale of Three Classrooms: Fat Studies and Its Intellectual Allies
- Chapter Twenty Three: A Public Pedagogy Approach to Fat Pedagogy
- Chapter Twenty Four: Navigating Morality, Politics, and Reason: Towards Scientifically Literate and Intellectually Ethical Fat Pedagogies
- Conclusion: A Fat Pedagogy Manifesto
- Biographical Statements for Contributors
- Author Index
- Subject Index
- Series index
First, the two of us want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of the chapter authors. Simply put, without your contributions this book would not exist. We have learned much from you and look forward to future conversations and, perhaps, future collaborations.
We are very grateful to series editor Shirley Steinberg, who first encouraged us to develop a book on fat pedagogy. We also want to thank the team at the New York office of Peter Lang who helped turn this book into reality, particularly managing editor Chris Myers, Phyllis Korper, editorial assistant Stephen Mazur, and production director Bernie Shade.
Kathleen Knowling kindly gave us permission to reprint her evocative art on the cover, which we very much appreciate. Thank you to Natalie Beausoleil for introducing us to Kathleen and for letting us borrow this piece of art that hangs proudly in her home.
The advertisement in Chapter 21 is reprinted with permission of Propaganda Advertising, Romania.
Individually, we each have many other people to thank as well.
Connie. To begin, Tema Sarick first introduced me to fat acceptance; while it may have taken years for the fat acceptance Tema modeled in her own inimitable way to stick and, alas, it still comes unstuck fairly easily even now, I remain grateful. Conversations with a number of friends, family members, colleagues, and students have been invaluable to me on this journey of learning and unlearning as has the cheerleading and the more quiet yet still rock solid support of others. So, a great big fat thank you to Jean Aguilar-Valdez, Anne Bell, Paul Berger, Mary Breunig, Jocelyn Burkhart, Joan Chambers, Lori Chambers, Lauren Corman, James Czank, Glynis Digby, Justin Dillon, Leesa Fawcett, Natalie Gerum, Annette Gough, Sue Hamel, Joe Heimlich, Kristen Hardy, Richard Kahn, Morgan Kensington, Gail Kuhl, Alex Lawson, Teresa Lloro-Bidart, Greg Lowan-Trudeau, Janice Mason, Ledah McKellar, Hannah McNinch, Marcia McKenzie, Rachel Mishenene, Helle ← ix | x → Möller, Blair Niblett, Jan Oakley, Leigh Potvin, Alan Reid, Emily Root, Donna Russell, Ken Russell, Pauline Sameshima, Lex Scully, Marilyn Silverman, Keri Semenko, Teresa Socha, Bob Stevenson, Christina van Barneveld, Peter van der Veen, Pam Wakewich, Gerald Walton, Hilary Whitehouse, Karen Williams, and the late Brent Cuthbertson. I particularly want to thank Erin Cameron for pushing me to finally start writing about fat pedagogy after so many years of talking about it, and also for insisting that we edit this book together; I have learned much from you and from the process of working on our various projects. Finally, I very much appreciate the unwavering support of my husband, Mike Hosszu; I feel very fortunate to have him in my corner.
Erin. I have described elsewhere my encounters with weight-based oppression in the settings of sport, physical education, and teacher education. Despite these unsettling encounters, it wasn’t until pursuing doctoral studies that I found critical “obesity” and fat scholarship—it felt like coming home. It put into context the discomfort I had felt for years as I witnessed constant weight-based oppression in sport and gymnasium settings. In my first year of doctoral studies, it was reading Geneviève Rail’s article “Canadian Youth’s Discursive Constructions of Health in the Context of Obesity Discourse” and interacting with her when she was a guest scholar at Lakehead University that cemented my academic interest in this field. It was thus fitting that four years later Geneviève served as the external reviewer for my dissertation defense. I have many other people to thank for nurturing and supporting my interest in this growing field. I would first like to thank the 26 individuals who participated in my dissertation research, who shared with me their pedagogical approaches, challenges, and successes as accomplished scholars and teachers working in the fields of critical obesity studies, critical weight studies, critical geographies of body size, Health at Every Size, and fat studies. Their humility, generosity, and genuine interest in my study was a gift and inspired, in many ways, my interest in working on this book. I’d also like to thank my doctoral committee who offered valuable insights and input into my thinking about fat pedagogy, namely, Teresa Socha (supervisor), Joe Barrett, Connie Russell, Gerald Walton (committee members), Lori Chambers (internal examiner), and as mentioned, Geneviève Rail (external examiner). In particular, I’d like to thank Connie, whose excitement and interest in anything fat was inspiring and indeed instrumental in fueling my own interests in the field. As a new scholar dealing with imposter syndrome, Connie’s guidance through co-editing this book has been much appreciated. I am also indebted to many individuals for their support, friendship, and humanity as I delved into critical scholarship deconstructing notions of health, wellness, and fatness. A big thank you to Paul Berger, James Czank, Juan-Miguel Fernandez-Balboa, Joannie Halas, Michelle Kilborn, David Kirk, Kathy-Kortes-Miller, Jody Mitchell, Helle Möller, Jan Oakley, Alexa Scully, Earle Seigler, Ellen Singleton, Kelly Skinner, Mirella Stroink, Richard Tinning, and Pam Wakewich. I’d also like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding my doctoral research and showing me that scholarship related to critical obesity and fat studies can, and hopefully will someday, be mainstream! Lastly, I am indebted to my extended family and to my husband, Jeffrey, and two young children, Carter and Yannik. This is as much your journey as mine. I am particularly thankful to my mom, Heather Dean, who as an academic in the health sciences has provided unwavering support and offered invaluable insights into my thinking, research, and work.
How did I know, from my first days in kindergarten, that I was fat and didn’t count the way other children did?
I was round-faced, slightly larger than my peers. I recall no overt statements, but by age 4, not quite 4, I knew that I was, indelibly, an outsider.
Was it the hint of disapproval in their voices when family members picked me up and pronounced the usual line, “My, you’re getting big”? Was it the other children who knew each other from preschool and showed me I had no place in their pecking order? Was it my teachers whose attention fell on me differently, especially as they oversaw snack time and exercise routines? Did my beautiful, brilliant, fat mother convey this knowledge to me via her unspoken concern that I might face precisely these attitudes and this treatment? However, I found out—I learned she was right. Nothing about me could mitigate my bottom-rung position on the weight hierarchy. It never occurred to me to try to lose weight because I couldn’t imagine anything I could do that would be enough to offset an exclusion that felt so thorough. (A feeling of futility for which I’m now deeply grateful. I’ve lived mostly free from the weight-loss industry’s self-hate rituals.) In grammar school, my teachers reprimanded the students who teased or bullied me if they found out about it, saying my tormentors were wrong to torment me. But they never said that the kids were wrong about me. They never said I was fine as I was. I suspect the idea would have been as unthinkable to them as it had become to me.
Other than being fat and being a girl living under patriarchy, I carried all sorts of privilege and the luck of being good at school. Sexism and anti-fat attitudes altered my understanding of every interaction and while that combination offered me particular insights, fat people who face racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism become expert in how these oppressions magnify, and are magnified by, weight bigotry. ← xi | xii →
The high school teacher who single-handedly turned me into a writer went hungry nibbling raw vegetables during her lunch hour and tailored her own clothes to hide the parts of her body that deviated in minor ways from her received idea of an acceptable figure. Years later, when I had come out as a fat person and created the print zine FAT!SO?—using everything she taught me—I sent her a copy but never heard a word. A fellow student who visited her around that time told me that when my name came up in their conversation, she had one word for my fat activism: “disgusting.”
I came to fat identity through feminism. In college, I took feminist theory courses outside my required coursework. I was hoping to ease a pain I wasn’t able to name. When I read the work of Julia Kristeva and Kim Chernin and others, it was obvious to me that “the body” they were so concerned about was not my fat body. I finally found words to describe my experience in my mid-20s when I read the groundbreaking 1983 anthology Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, edited by Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser.
During my zine years, I learned about three young people who committed suicide after weight-based bullying left them hopeless: Brian Head, Samuel Graham, and Kelly Yeomans. Brian had faced years of bullying for his weight when he brought a gun to high school one day. He stood up to his bully but ended by shooting himself that day, saying, “I’m sick of it.”1 Samuel undertook to lose weight the summer before he entered middle school, but feared it wasn’t enough to prevent bullies from targeting him. He hung himself from a tree the night before school started.2 Kelly’s bullies escalated from attacking her at school to repeatedly throwing food at her house and yelling taunts. She took an overdose at age 13.3
Because of these tragic deaths, I felt I had to do more than publish a zine. These three young people were not the only ones in pain. Despite my fear of public speaking, I couldn’t remain silent, so I started giving talks about weight-based oppression and fat liberation. I hoped to do whatever I could to address the cruelty and suffering. For my first talk, a teacher friend invited me to speak to students in his middle school health education class. If I had to locate a time in my life when I felt most vulnerable to anti-fat attack and ostracism, it could easily have been my own seventh-grade health education class.
Now that I’ve given hundreds of talks in all sorts of settings, I know that people of all sizes suffer directly from weight-based oppression and are eager for better ways to navigate it. At the heart of each talk is an exercise that I call “Speed Anthropology.” For 5 or 10 minutes, I ask people to be anthropologists and come up with the concepts that our culture associates with fat and thin. I write down their findings, divided by a line that later comes to represent the weight-based social hierarchy. I hope to use what people already know (but may not know they know) to raise their consciousness of weight oppression as a real and pervasive system that affects us all and that does serious harm. I hope to inspire people’s outrage and tap into their self-interest to fight this system. I invite people to join me in rejecting weight-based oppression in ways that are fun and satisfying for them.
A necessary part of fat liberation is reclaiming ideas about health, eating, and physical activity from the anti-fat attitudes that have come to pervade them. As this anthology demonstrates, that project will take a long time and a lot of effort. It is a necessary endeavor if we are to address the fundamental question of whether fat people can be at home in our bodies and welcome in a society made up of a weight-diverse population, or whether we are a target to be eradicated. Embedded in all of the ostensibly salubrious efforts to reduce or prevent so-called obesity is an inherently eugenics-y worldview. I tell the stories of Brian, Samuel, and ← xii | xiii → Kelly because this anti-fat worldview is a particular threat to children and young people. It has certainly been a threat to me all of my life. I see its impact on people in the fat community and general society every day.
This preface serves as a latter-years version of a plea for help, safety, and personhood from my 4-year-old self standing in the doorway of that kindergarten classroom. Fat pedagogy—and more important a politicized fat pedagogy—is so very necessary. It can mean life or death.
~Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO? and creator of Yay! Scales
2 http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-08-27/news/9608270254_1_hanged-new-school-boy, http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1996-09-01/news/9608310354_1_sunrise-middle-school-fat-jokes-religious-boy
3 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/148765.stm ← xiii | xiv →
Why The Fat Pedagogy Reader?
Over the past decade, concerns about a global “obesity epidemic” have flourished (World Health Organization, 1998), appearing in media (Saguy & Almeling, 2008), popular culture (Kwan & Graves, 2013), and in speeches by health leaders who have made claims such as “obesity” being “more threatening than weapons of mass destruction” (Carmona, 2003, para. 66). Public health messages around physical activity, fitness, and nutrition permeate society and validate fat-phobic behaviors and practices. This “obesity” discourse dominates and serves to reproduce a framework of thinking, talking, and action in which thinness is privileged and in which a “size matters” message fuels narratives about fat people’s irresponsibility and lack of willpower (see Gard & Wright, 2005; Lupton, 2013; Wann, 2009). Consider as well the photos of “headless fatties” that typically accompany news articles. In her analysis of this phenomenon, Charlotte Cooper (2007) notes how “the body becomes symbolic: we are there but we have no voice, not even a mouth in a head, no brain, no thoughts or opinions. Instead we are reduced and dehumanized as symbols of cultural fear” (para. 3). Such depictions, alongside images of people Photoshopped to unrealistic proportions, serve to inform society about whose bodies count as “normal.” As Susan Bordo (1993) states, “This is perpetual pedagogy, how to interpret your body 101. These images are teaching us how to see … [and] training our perceptions in what’s a defect and what is normal” (p. xvii).
A growing body of research provides alternative perspectives on “obesity” and fatness. Within this literature, scholars dispute scientific rationalizations of “obesity”; draw attention to the cultural, historical, political, and social contexts of “obesity” and fatness; and highlight how obesity ← 1 | 2 → discourse perpetuates harmful and oppressive assumptions, behaviors, and actions. New interdisciplinary fields that problematize “obesity” have emerged, including critical obesity studies, critical weight studies, critical geographies of body size, and fat studies (Colls & Evans, 2009; Cooper, 2010). While these fields differ somewhat in focus, theoretical grounding, and methodologies, they are “united in their refusal to simply reproduce/legitimate/endorse biomedical narratives that would have us ‘tackle’ this putative problem” (Monaghan, Colls, & Evans, 2013, p. 251).
There also is a small but growing literature on how formal education (elementary, secondary, and tertiary) acts as a powerful site for the (re)production of dominant obesity discourse, fat phobia, and weight-based oppression; scholars have critically examined curriculum, pedagogy, policy, school culture, and the physical environment (e.g., Azzarito, 2007; Cameron, 2015a; Cameron et al., 2014; Evans, Rich, Davies, & Allwood, 2008; Farrell, 2013; Gard, 2008; Gard & Pluim, 2014; Guthman, 2009; Hetrick & Attig, 2009; Koppleman, 2009; Leahy, 2009; Petherick & Beausoleil, 2015; Powell & Fitzpatrick, 2013; Pringle & Pringle, 2012; Quennerstedt, Burrows, & Maivorsdotter, 2010; Rice, 2007; Rich, 2010; Russell, Cameron, Socha, & McNinch, 2013; Sykes, 2011; Sykes & McPhail, 2008; Weinstock & Krehbiel, 2009). Others have shared stories of teaching practices or their experiences of weight-based oppression or thin privilege in education settings (e.g., Boling, 2011; Brown, 2012; Cameron, 2015b; Escalera, 2009; Fisanick, 2006, 2007, 2014; Hopkins, 2011; Jones & Hughes-Decatur, 2012; Tirosh, 2006; Watkins & Concepcion, 2014; Watkins, Farrell, & Hugmeyer, 2012; Watkins & Hugmeyer, 2013).
In their book Education, Disordered Eating and Obesity Discourse, John Evans, Emma Rich, Brent Davies, and Rachel Allwood (2008) draw attention to how dominant obesity discourse is operationalized in educational contexts through a culture of body perfection and performance. They suggest that body pedagogies—“the conscious activities undertaken by people, organizations, or the state that are designed to enhance individuals’ understanding of their own and others’ corporeality” (p. 17)—reveal the “contributory” relationship between dominant obesity discourse in schools and harmful health consequences such as body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, excessive exercise, and depression. They also assert that we need to appreciate the complexity of the social conditions of students’ embodied lives. Arguably, addressing the wider structures will require not just a politics of fat but also a politics of pedagogy, where teachers and scholars engage in reimagining an experience of education that is inclusive of size diversity.
Feminist and critical scholars working in education have advocated emancipatory and liberatory pedagogies, demonstrating that classrooms and other learning contexts are not separate from but instead extensions of a society fraught by hierarchies and structures of dominance (e.g., Darder, Baltodano, & Torres, 2009; hooks, 1995; Kincheloe, 2008; Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2011). To date, these scholars have focused on many social justice issues such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability, but few have focused on body size (Cameron et al., 2014). We assert that all educators need to pay attention to how classrooms and other learning contexts can turn bodies into political sites of privilege and oppression as well as the ways in which dominant obesity discourse and weight-based oppression, often expressed as fat phobia, fat hatred, and fat bullying, are being addressed within spaces and places of teaching and learning. While socially just pedagogies alone cannot redress the depth of inequity in educational institutions ← 2 | 3 → (Apple, 2000), they certainly can play an important role in bringing attention, awareness, and recognition to specific areas of difference. With this in mind, this book is dedicated to exploring various ways in which educators are politically positioning critical perspectives of “obesity” and fatness in formal and informal educational settings, and thereby helping develop this emerging field of fat pedagogy. Given the growth in critical obesity and fat scholarship, the time does indeed appear ripe for The Fat Pedagogy Reader.
Before providing a brief overview of the book, we first want to describe four core concepts we used to frame it. While literature on disrupting dominant obesity discourse and addressing weight-based oppression has begun to enter the mainstream in some fields such as sociology and women’s studies, it has not yet gained traction in many others, including education (Brown, 2012). Taking a few moments, then, to situate the book seems to be in order.
Building Upon The Fat Studies Reader
In the late 1960s, a social movement began to emerge that called for a radical shift in understandings of fatness. Like other social movements of the time such as the gay liberation movement, second wave feminism, and the civil rights movement, a focus on a specific oppression, in this case weight-based oppression, motivated much activism. This is not to say that these activists did not have other concerns nor were they unaware of intersecting identities, but rather that single-issue activism was mobilizing for many. Nonetheless, fat activism was largely influenced by second wave feminism (Farrell, 2011) and a common rallying idea was that “fat is a feminist issue” (Fikkan & Rothblum, 2012; Saguy, 2012).
In the beginning of the twenty-first century, the work of these early activists and a number of scholars began to coalesce into the field of fat studies (Wann, 2009). Given its roots in fat activism, fat studies scholars defined it as an inherently “radical field” (Wann, 2009, p. ix) that “critically examines societal attitudes about body weight and appearance, and that advocates equality for all people with respect to body size” (Rothblum, 2011, p. 173). In 2009, two pivotal academic texts were published in the field, The Fat Studies Reader (Rothblum & Solovay, 2009) and Fat Studies in the UK (Tomrley & Naylor, 2009) and helped to establish fat studies in the academy by highlighting the breadth and depth of work being done. In 2012, the first academic journal, Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society, was launched.
As we conceptualized The Fat Pedagogy Reader, the two of us were particularly inspired by The Fat Studies Reader. It remains an exemplar in the field with its historical, social, political, and cultural examination of the nascent field of fat studies; as such, it has served as an invaluable resource for academics and activists alike. While we recognize that not all of the authors who have contributed to The Fat Pedagogy Reader define themselves as fat studies scholars nor describe their work as necessarily radical, we argue that any scholar or educator addressing the “problem” of how “obesity” and fatness are constructed or working to challenge weight-based oppression is, by nature of the contexts in which we are operating, doing critical work. We thus intentionally chose to use the term “fat pedagogy” for this book and we invite readers to pause, consider the everyday ways in which we learn and teach about fatness, and as Sondra Solovay and Esther Rothblum (2009) said in their introduction to The Fat Studies Reader, “Do something daring and bold” (p. 2) about weight-based oppression. ← 3 | 4 →
Fat Pedagogues Come in Many Shapes and Sizes
As scholars influenced by feminist, intersectional, poststructuralist, and environmental theories, the two of us believe that situating ourselves is an important academic undertaking. For example, Erin identifies as a thin, straight, able-bodied, white cisgender woman who is an Anglophone French-speaking Canadian, and Connie as a fat, straight, able-bodied, white, Anglophone Canadian, once lower- and now middle-class, cisgender woman. Like Carla Rice (2009), we believe that “such descriptions tend to encourage centering of researchers’ embodied subjectivities” (p. 250). We recognize that the two of us come at this work with different lived and embodied experiences, as does each author who has contributed to this book. Whatever our shape or size, we have all been implicated in weight-based oppression and we each can play a role in challenging dominant obesity discourse and stopping fat hate. As Marilyn Wann (2009) points out in her foreword to the Fat Studies Reader:
People all along the weight spectrum may experience fat oppression. … [A] young woman who weighs eighty-seven pounds because of her anorexia knows something about fat oppression. … A fat person who is expected to pay double for the privilege of sitting down during an airplane flight. … [I]f we imagine that the conflict is between fat and thin, weight prejudice continues. Instead, the conflict is between all of us against a system that would weigh our value as people. (p. xv)
Words Have Weight
Scholars and activists who identify with fat studies or fat acceptance purposely use the word “fat” and assert that doing so is a political action. Arguing that “fat” ought simply to act as a descriptor of size and shape, they strategically use the “f-word” (Wann, 1998) to counter the stigmatizing and privileging of particular body sizes and weights (Cooper, 2010). These scholars suggest that the deployment of biomedical weight categories such as “obesity” and “overweight” have served to normalize and privilege thin bodies and oppress fat ones (Anderson, 2012; Braziel & LeBesco, 2001; Rothblum & Solovay, 2009). They demonstrate how the use of biomedical weight categories continues to validate fat hate and fat phobia and has led to much harm, including unhealthy body preoccupations, weight-cycling, low self-esteem, and eating disorders (see Aphramor, 2005; Bacon & Aphramor, 2011).
- XIV, 278
- ISBN (PDF)
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- ISBN (Hardcover)
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- Publication date
- 2016 (April)
- Fat people McDonalds Mobbing
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XIV, 278 pp., num. ill.