Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood

Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood

Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood

Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood

Synopsis

'Discrimination against the obese is today pervasive and oppressive. The problem will only grow worse as the epidemic of obesity spreads. Kirkland has written the definitive study of obesity within American law. It is required reading for anyone concerned with this issue. This is an admirable and profound book.' - Robert Post, Yale Law School ?Provides a much-needed conceptual map for making sense of how we in the U. S. talk about difference, discrimination, and rights generally. The result is an imaginative, insightful, savvy, and unusually accessible inquiry that should be required reading for anyone interested in the politics of civil rights. Highly recommended!? - Michael McCann, University of Washington America is a weight-obsessed nation. Over the last decade, there's been an explosion of concern in the U. S. about people getting fatter. Plaintiffs are now filing lawsuits arguing that discrimination against fat people should be illegal. Fat Rights asks the first provocative questions that need to be raised about adding weight to lists of currently protected traits like race, gender, and disability. Is body fat an indicator of a character flaw or of incompetence on the job? Does it pose risks or costs to employers they should be allowed to evade? Or is it simply a stigmatized difference that does not bear on the ability to perform most jobs? Could we imagine fatness as part of workplace diversity? Considering fat discrimination prompts us to rethink these basic questions that lawyers, judges, and ordinary citizens ask before a new trait begins to look suitable for antidiscrimination coverage. Fat Rights draws on little-known legal cases brought by fat citizens as well as significant lawsuits over other forms of bodily difference (such as transgenderism), asking why the boundaries of our antidiscrimination laws rest where they do. Fatness, argues Kirkland, is both similar to and provocatively different from other protected traits, raising longstanding dilemmas in antidiscrimination law into stark relief. Though options for defending difference may be scarce, Kirkland evaluates the available strategies and proposes new ways of navigating this new legal question. Fat Rights enters the fray of the obesity debate from a new perspective: our inherited civil rights tradition. The scope is broad, covering much more than just weight discrimination and drawing the reader into the larger context of antidiscrimination protections and how they can be justified for a new group.

Excerpt

This is a book about fat rights. To be more precise, this is a book about what makes fat rights possible or impossible, credible or incredible, reasonable or untenable in contemporary American law and society. It must then also be a book about rights in general, about who properly possesses rights, and about how rights work. It must be about the society we actually live in and the tools we regularly use to make sense of what different people deserve in their ordinary quests to get by and get ahead. As anyone who has even glanced at the news in the last few years well knows, we are alleged to be in the midst of what has been called an “obesity epidemic.” (Throughout this book I use the straightforward descriptor “fat”; I avoid the language of “overweight” and “obesity” because I do not endorse the medical and pejorative view of fat people those terms suggest.) As soon as a new social problem emerges in our society, it is never too long before we begin debating the issue in terms of rights. Are fat citizens a new rights group on their way to being seen as objects of unfair discrimination? If so, how will we talk about what they deserve? Being fat is surely quite stigmatizing. Media coverage of the trend has been sensationalist and misleading, feeding a national and even international fat panic. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said in a 2006 speech that rising weights would “dwarf” the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, calling it “the terror within.” Blame has been pinned on “feminist careerism” because women now work rather than stay home and cook healthy meals for their families. The tone of public debate may now be turning back toward greater calm, however, and it is my hope that this book will contribute to a discussion about what our antidiscrimination traditions can and cannot offer us to help puzzle through the relationship between the reality of our differences in body sizes and what justice requires for all of us.

This book places fat citizens within our antidiscrimination traditions in order to show how those traditions will decipher fat citizens' claims . . .

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