Let’s talk about Being Fat

Check out this post at the University of Press blog, where I’ve shared some of the story-behind-the story of my recent book. I wrote the post for teachers of history, sports and gender studies courses who might be thinking about how fat activism fits into academic debates about feminism, fitness and Canadian studies.

Another reason I wrote the post was to respond to questions I get about fat activisms’ legitimacy as a subject for analysis. For some, it seems too new to understand or too fleeting to analyze.

It isn’t. Fat activism is diverse and unexpected, with threads reaching back to the 1940s. The seeming recent-ness of “obesity” as a problem obscures the rapid ways our understanding of body weight shifted in the 1970s and early 1980s. As fit bodies became a greater source of social capital, attention was drawn to those that could not, or would not, conform.

Thousands of women in Canada, the United States, and other (mostly Western) nations engaged in fat activism. Refusing proscriptions of femininity, they took the idea that is is okay to be fat and applied it in ways that were relevant to their lives – ranging from stand-ins at lesbian feminist events to fashion shows to aerobics classes.

Each persons’ activism depended on the context in which she lived.

As I say in the post, fat activism is far from perfect. The movement has not adequately grappled with race and accessibility issues. Groups have tended to see their approach to fat activism as the way, foreclosing debate and obscuring potential voices. At the same time, studying fat activism illuminates moments of pleasure and camaraderie, topics which are often absent from histories of activism and gender.

As a Goodreads commenter recently pointed out the book is “basically just all facts.” They were a bit disappointed, I think, that the book wasn’t about being fat right now. Fair enough. I like the comment though, because I was – and am – trying to document the facts. There were different forms of fat activism that can inform our thinking today. I wrote about everything I could find and not just those forms of activism that I agree with or found palatable.

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