"Weight Bias and Fat Stigma"
In my presentation, I will discuss how ample body weight has been pathologized and medicalized, leading to the reinforcement of anti-fat attitudes and fat stigma in American society. I will also highlight how fat identity has been overdetermined by stigma and how, as fat prejudices grew, this resurfaced longstanding anti-Black and anti-Brown prejudices. Through engaging with critical Fat Studies scholarship, I will offer a counter-discourse to mainline public-health models and will provide insight into the consequences of fat prejudice.
Fat-Studies scholars are aware that many researchers claiming to study weight stigma do not recognize fatness as simply a form of bodily variation or human diversity. Instead, they think weight stigma is counterproductive to encouraging fat people to lose weight through diet and exercise. We must work to demonstrate how weight stigma can have negative impacts on fat people’s rights. Unfortunately, very few places in the U.S. and abroad have codified laws to protect fat people from discrimination. Rather than distinguish direct forms of fat discrimination, legal definitions of weight discrimination often consider it a form of indirect discrimination. It is essential that we work to articulate the logics of anti-fat discrimination to protect fat people from harm.
People should have the right to live in diverse bodies, including body shape and size, without fear of negative judgement or discrimination. Unfortunately, fat people are often treated as second-class citizens and face weight discrimination and anti-fat sizeism. To create a more accepting society, it is important to promote size acceptance and take issues of anti-fat bias seriously. Furthermore, the goal of Fat Studies and fat activism goes well beyond anti-stigma work, as these fields benefit from their multi-faceted nature.
Jason Whitesel, PhD, is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Illinois State University. He teaches and researches LGBTQIA+ studies and queer theory; fat studies; sociological approaches to critical race studies; gender & sexuality studies; visual culture; and sociology of the body. He uses the theoretical paradigm of intersectionality in conducting qualitative research to examine marginality and privilege in social groups. He has authored Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma; coedited a journal issue on “Fat Activism”; published in journals and anthologies; appeared on Good Morning America, The Takeaway, and BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed; and he is a longtime member of the Racial, Democracy, Crime and Justice Network.