Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution
You'll learn things you never knew you never knew.
—Lyrics from Pocahontas, an anticolonialist movie that contains
unexamined colonialism (Menken & Schwartz, 1995)
As a new, interdisciplinary field of intellectual inquiry, fat studies is defined in part by what it is not.
For example, if you believe that fat people could (and should) lose weight, then you are not doing fat studies—you are part of the $58.6 billion-per-year weight-loss industry or its vast customer base (Marketdata Enterprises, 2007).
If you believe that being fat is a disease and that fat people cannot possibly enjoy good health or long life, then you are not doing fat studies. Instead, your approach is aligned with “obesity” researchers, bariatric surgeons, public health officials who declare “war on obesity” (Koop, 1997), and the medico-pharmaceutical industrial complex that profits from dangerous attempts to “cure” people of bodily difference (more on “obesity” later).
If you believe that thin is inherently beautiful and fat is obviously ugly, then you are not doing fat studies work either. You are instead in the realm of advertising, popular media, or the more derivative types of visual art—in other words, propaganda.
Fat studies is a radical field, in the sense that it goes to the root of weight-related belief systems.
The contrasting endeavors mentioned above are prescriptive in nature. They assume that human weight is mutable and negotiable, assumptions that are informed by current social bias and stigma against fatness and fat people. On this point, fat studies is— in strong contrast—descriptive. Weight, like height, is a human characteristic that varies across any population in a bell curve (Flegal, 2006). An individual person's weight also varies over the course of a lifetime, influenced largely by inherited predisposition and only marginally by environmental factors like eating and exercise patterns (Hainer, Stunkard, Kunesova, Parizkova, Stich, & Allison, 2001). Most people naturally occupy a middle range of weights (and heights), whereas some people naturally weigh less and some people naturally weigh more (just as some people are naturally tall or short). Heights and weights also vary between populations and time periods, due in large part