As a Body Scholar, I Can’t Not Talk about Fat

As a Body Scholar, I Can’t Not Talk about Fat July 15, 2016

I’m not sure when exactly fat became a marker for damn near every social ill on the body, but as a body scholar I have to talk about it even if it’s not my specialization.

"The Loves of the Centaurs" by Peter Paul Rubens. From Wikimedia Commons.
“The Loves of the Centaurs” by Peter Paul Rubens. From Wikimedia Commons.

I mean, for goodness’ sake, I gave a whole keynote lecture on the body in folklore. I taught a college course called The Body and Society, cross-listed between anthropology and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies. My very first academic article that was published was about body art, specifically tribal belly dance costumes. My dissertation was on gender and the body in European fairy tales.

Most of my engagement with the body has been through the lens of sexuality and gender. More recently, as I move into sex education, I started with the communication and culture topics I know best, and have been filling in my knowledge around anatomy, reproduction, and STIs – the bodily aspects of sex ed, in other words (I love teaching about the intersection of syphilis and culture, for example).

But fat as an object of study? I only in the last year hopped on board that train, despite having engaged with the social messages I’ve received as a woman who’s had some curves since puberty. I’ve absorbed some of the Feminism 101 messages around fat, too, such as the utter hypocrisy of how women carrying a little extra weight are judged far more harshly than men who do so.

However, I think that as beings that inhabit fleshy vehicles, we need to be aware of the influence that fat, fat stigma, and fat acceptance can have on us. Plenty of fascinating body topics – from idealized beauty to aging to sexual function – intersect with fatness (or lack thereof) at various points. Fat matters to medicine, as exemplified by the whole Plan B debacle. Fat matters when discussing agriculture, the food industry, and global cuisine. The list goes on and on.

So, keep in mind going through these next few posts that I’m newer to discussing fat as a topic, but I’m treating it with the seriousness of my other academic interests. If I mess up any of the language or concepts, feel free to call me on it and I’ll try to do better next time.

And just a note – I’m trying to schedule these posts for a time when I can be pretty on-the-ball about moderating comments, but bigotry and/or victim-blaming will get you banned from my blog.

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