The Fat Studies Reader

By Esther Rothblum; Sondra Solovay | Go to book overview

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

Tracy Royce

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, antifat bias is particularly salient in the lives of fat women, who have to contend with unrealistic, ever-narrowing beauty standards and the considerable importance that society places on female appearance (Chen & Brown, 2005; Gailey & Prohaska, 2006; Schur, 1984; Wolf, 1991).

One area of special concern for fat women has gone relatively unexplored in the social science literature: the intersection of fat oppression and violence against women.1 Since the advent of the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movements, feminists have provided ample evidence of the pervasiveness and severity of various forms of violence against women (Brownmiller, 1975; Walker, 1979). Literature in this area increasingly embraces an intersectional approach, reflecting an understanding that a woman's race/ethnicity, class, sexuality, and other facets of identity shape not only the commission of violence, but also social and institutional responses to her victimization (Crenshaw, 1991; Renzetti, 1992; Waldron, 1996). Little has been established, however, about whether and how anti-fat bias may foster violence against the many women whose body size exceeds mainstream social acceptance. As a woman of size, antiviolence advocate, feminist, and survivor, I argue not only that violence affects fat women in ways specific to their size, but also that fat women are sometimes targeted for violence precisely because of their size. An increased understanding of the intersection of sizeism, sexism, and violence against women not only enhances the intellectual and political work of size acceptance proponents, antiviolence advocates, and feminists; it ultimately benefits fat women who already are or may become survivors of abuse.

The majority of the existing empirical studies that at least tangentially address the intersection of violence against women and body size document female fatness as a correlate of sexual abuse (Cloutier, Martin, & Poole, 2002; Felitti, 1991; Felitti 1993; Frayne, Skinner, Sullivan, & Freund, 2003). Clearly, research that establishes the traumatic consequences of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault is important. But as

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