Maybe It Should Be Called Fat American Studies
I am a fat activist and writer, I am British, I live in London, and I would like to discuss the way that U.S. identity is informing and influencing the direction of Fat Studies. Fat activists are not well connected in established networks outside the United States, and we are frequently isolated from one another. It seems to me that fat has come to be regarded as an issue sited specifically within the United States, and that nontraditional knowledge about fat, embodied in Fat Studies, remains locked inside that country.
I will suggest that although U.S. cultural dominance in the field is understandable, it is also problematic. I will propose that a truly expansive vision for this new academic territory should embrace a more cross-cultural position. I will be using my experiences as a fat activist and writer living in Britain but working with comrades in the United States to support my arguments, as well as testimonies from others working in the area both inside and outside the States. Please note that I am not an academic; my background is in activism and journalism, and my approach reflects this.
First, a handful of definitions: “America” is synonymous with the United States to people living in the United Kingdom. I am aware, however, that this blanket label is problematic regarding the many non-U.S. inhabitants of the American continent, so I will try and be careful with my usage of it in this chapter. Although I appreciate that there are subtle differences and overlaps among the groups, I use fat rights, Fat Studies, and fat activists almost interchangeably for the sake of easy reading. By “outsider” I mean those not living and working within the United States; conversely, “insider” refers to those Americans who are active within the U.S. fat rights movement.
It is not surprising that Fat Studies could be thought of as an American discipline. Fat itself is regarded by the world's media as American, thus as the United States invented fast food and exported it to the rest of the world, so it bore the consequences of a poor dietary regime; as a result of the global fast food industry, the country has also exported its “obesity problem” to the rest of the world. The fat American is a well-known and well-worn stereotype around the globe.