Fattening Queer History
Where Does Fat History Go from Here?
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 a self-conscious way, can sustain a fat-positive movement even as it helps us to imagine, and thus to create, alternatives to what sometimes seems like an all-too-oppressive present. In this chapter, I draw on the field of queer historiography to suggest some of the ways that histories can work with fat activism to intervene constructively in our own historical moment. I realize that the gay and lesbian community is not free from fat-phobia; indeed, those especially interested in assimilation are often even vociferously fat-phobic. The queer historiography that I discuss here embraces a more expansive definition of “queer” that is more expressly inclusive of all who challenge normativity, including fat people. In what follows, I consider what I believe should be the two main tasks of fat histories. First, we need fat histories to look to the past in order to critique the constructs that oppress us now. We should, for example, give “obesity” a history so that we make it clear that the category currently applied to our bodies is not natural or “real.” Second, we need more creative historical interventions to complement such genealogical ones because only the latter can help us imagine new relationships with our bodies and the bodies of others.
I can begin to reflect on the role that history can play in creating fat-positive communities because there already exist a significant body of fat histories, including constructionist fat histories. Recent interest in the subject in the United States is fueled by the contemporary fat-panic that has taken hold, especially since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bureaucrats and public officials draw on our own generalized fear and anxiety, warning us that the “obesity epidemic” poses the greatest threat to the national security of the United States. U.S. Surgeon General Koop has repeatedly called it the “terror within” (Carmona, 2003).
Within this atmosphere, fat histories have proliferated: Bodies Out of Bounds, a collection of essays that includes some on historical topics, edited by Jana Evans Braziel and Kathleen LeBesco (2001); Peter Stearns's Fat History (1997), Sander Gilman's