(FTS1) An Intersectional Analysis of Fatness

Tuesday Jun 18 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Wong Building - WONG 1050

Session Code: FTS1
Session Format: Paper Presentations
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Not Applicable
Session Categories: In-person Session

In the development of fat studies and other disciplines analyzing the experience of social inequality, race as an analytic has been left out of discussion as the focus has been very single-axis (Collins 1990; Hobson 2018; Strings 2020). There has been a wave in the theorizing of fatness that considers the intersectional aspects to the lived experience of fatness. Feminist sociology focusing on fatness and the body must be intersectional in nature. As Amy Farrell (2011) notes, “intersectional feminist theory, then, clarifies the ways that fatness as both an identity and as a category of discrimination and stigma must always be understood in context and in relationship to other forms of identity and oppression.” (p. 49). While many scholars have explored the intersections of gender and class with fatness, there is a need for stronger exploration of the ways in which race and fatness intersect (Strings, 2020). Strings (2020) argues that fatness is a ‘floating signifier’ of race. From this, Strings (2020) highlights how “given the necessary ambiguity of the race-craft, the meaning of fatness (as beautiful or grotesque) became politically contested and unstable. In this context, various elites … engaged in competing racial projects to either exalt or reject fat female bodies” (p. 7). The regulation of the fat body is a part of a larger system of regulation, and fatness is used to maintain categories of difference that are informed through other systems of marginalization, such as race, class, sexuality, gender, and ability (Jones, 2016). The intersection of fatness with larger systems of oppression has been underserved in fat studies literature, often essentializing the experiences of fat women (Friedman, Rice, and Rinaldi, 2019; Jones 2016; Wykes, 2016).As Baker-Pitts (2011) notes, “without an anti-racist, body-affirmative stance, all of us - fat, thin, of any size, are at risk of dwelling in body shame and spreading weight-based biases, regardless of how many hours we have spent analyzing our mind” (p. 19). Tags: Equality and Inequality, Fat Studies, Race and Ethnicity

Organizers: Kelsey Ioannoni, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ramanpreet A. Bahra, York University


Sonia Meerai, Wilfrid Laurier University; May Friedman, Toronto Metropolitan University

Reflections on centering race and fatness in health and social care: Theoretical considerations for intersectionality

Health and social care practices have discriminated against and excluded racialized fat bodies historically and into the present day. Recently, the literature has connected the historical, social and cultural implications, including anti-Black racist, and racist histories of measurement of BMI (body mass index) (Harrison, 2021; Strings, 2023). This measurement is highly utilized in western approaches to health and social care. Broadly, intersectionality theory has been part of health and social care research taking into consideration identities as impacted by structures. However, the essentialization of racialized fat bodies continues to permeate research pursuits, often making invisible the intersection of race and fatness altogether. This has made invisible the nuances of experiences of diverse racialized fat bodies. We have made contributions to expanding the literature on centering race and fatness within fat studies scholarship (Meerai, 2019; Friedman and Meerai, 2023; Adjei-Manu et al., [in press]). We have also engaged in research where fatness was centered for documenting experiences in health and social care settings (Martel et al., 2021; Heidebrecht et al., 2024). Although an intersectional framing guides our work, explicitly naming and centering the intersection of race and fatness has been and continues to be a priority in our community research pursuits. What we have learned from the centering of race and fatness has brought forward the pause to reflect on how we take up feminist approaches to intersectionality. Based on two community research projects, we engaged in a critical reflexive dialogue guided by critical reflexive process (Cooper and Burnett, 2006) and thinking with theory (Jackson and Mazzei, 2017). Critical reflexive process and thinking with theory provided us theoretical and methodological openings to uncover assumptions when applying an intersectional framework. One project centered fatness in experiences of health and social care. The other project explicitly centered race and fatness in overall experiences within and beyond health and social care. We documented the varying ways feminist approaches to intersectionality have made visible the intersection of race and fatness topically. In contrast, in our project where we centered race and fatness explicitly within an intersectional framing, highlighted the historical, social, cultural, political implications on issues beyond health and social care. It opened further possibilities for those involved in the research process, including ourselves. Race and fatness as an analytic framing provided space to document experiences as desirable and expansive rather than only as a site of deficit (tuck, 2009). An anti-racist and affirming stance to nuancing the theoretical application of feminist approaches to intersectionality by centering race and fatness is critical to moving away from essentialization of experience, eradicating the positioning of the racialized body as deficit and moving towards taking up expansive space. We conclude with an urgency on how to name and utilize a feminist approach to intersectionality that centres both race and fatness (strings, 2019). Working from a place of radical self-love, and taking up expansive space, we propose a new analytical framing that explicitly centres race and fatness.

Kasie Murphy, Queen's University

Fat physical activity programs as a reimagining and tool of resistance to reshape physical activity culture

Fat people are often marginalized in organized physical activity. Discrimination against fat people is prominent in organized physical activity (Pearl et al, 2015; Thedinga et al., 2021). Research has shown that many fitness and sport professionals tend to stigmatize fatness by engaging in moralizing behaviours attributing fatness to laziness and a lack of self-control (Rubino et al., 2020; Bevan et al., 2021). Anti-fat bias has been identified in fitness instructors (Ntoumanis et al., 2018), physical education teachers (Readdy and Wallhead, 2016), and gym employees (Robertson and Vahora, 2008). This fatphobia often leads to fat participants having low feelings of competence, avoidance of exercise, reduced physical activity, and self-exclusion from physical activity programs (Thedinga et al., 2021). In my dissertation, I seek to identify strategies to make organized physical activity programs more inclusive to fat people and to see if physical activity programs can help combat social structures of fatphobia. To do this, I look to the work of fat activists who have used organized physical activity to empower fat people and create fat communities for a long time, from fat gyms, fat baseball teams, fat dance classes, fat hiking groups, to fat running clubs. These programs have worked to create a space outside of conventional physical activity to help fat people to regain embodied joys in movement in a safer space designed to better meet their needs. In this presentation, I will provide more specifics about how some of these programs operate including strategies they employ and challenges they face in hopes of finding strategies to improve physical activity cultures more broadly.  This research is rooted in Fat Studies and Sport Sociology. Fat Studies, as a discipline, challenges stereotypes about fatness and investigates the social processes through which fat identities are marginalized in both institutional and popular knowledges (Pausé, 2014). Fat Studies scholars have identified that physical activity programs designed for fat people can challenge fatphobia, teach bodily acceptance, and create community (Ellison, 2020; Oliver and Cameron, 2021). Similarly, sport sociology scholars see organized physical activity as a form of community building and embodied pleasure (Henricks, 2006; Pringle et al., 2015; Wellard, 2013). Sport scholars have shown that organized physical activity can combat colonialism (McGuire-Adams, 2020; Fortier and Hastings, 2019), homophobia (Carter and Baliko, 2007; Davidson, 2009), and racism (Thangaraj, 2015) by spaces organized around the needs of marginalized people. These programs may allow marginalized people to create social transformations that extends beyond sport (Adams, 2021). Thus, I seek to use the work of sport sociologists to identify the transformative potential of physical activity programs to combat the structures of oppression identified by Fat Studies scholars. Furthermore, my analysis is rooted in Fat Feminist Standpoint theory. Sandra Harding (2004) sees standpoint as the relationship between knowledge production and power. To Harding, standpoint is simultaneously a theory, method, and methodology. It emerged in the 1970s and 1980s when feminist scholars were actively trying to transform and disrupt ways of knowing (Hesse-Biber, 2012). Standpoint theory criticizes “the very standards for what counts as knowledge, objectivity, rationality, and good scientific method” (Harding, 2004, 2). Standpoint theory is, at root, a critique of approaches to knowledge that are Western, patriarchal, white, and colonial. Therefore, I use this theory to both challenge dominant knowledges that lead to intersecting forms of fat oppression and to structure my method by being mindful of who’s knowledge and input I include in this project and how I analyse their contributions. In this presentation, I will share some of the preliminary findings from my dissertation. Specifically, I hope to share findings about the cultural landscape that lead to the formation of fat physical activity programs. Additionally, I will share some of the things I’ve learned from interviews with people who organize physical activity programs designed for fat people in Canada and the United States. These findings will focus on what lead to their program’s creation, how organizers structure their programs to mindfully integrate the diverse needs of fat people, and what aspects organizers feel may be transferable to conventional physical activity spaces in hopes of finding strategies to combat fatphobia in physical activity cultures more broadly. 

Kelsey Ioannoni, Wilfrid Laurier University

Anti-fat bias in health care: The patient perspective

In health care spaces, the stigma associated with the fat female body results in women internalizing societal stigma as shame about the existence of their bodies (Ioannoni, 2022). The internalization of this shame through feelings of moral failure (Lanipher and Cory, 2021) around their inability despite best efforts, and their subsequent position in society as a ‘bad citizen’, failing to meet the neoliberal expectation of ‘good health’ as a biocitizen (Halse, 2009). The ability of fat women to fully engage with and participate in their health care is impacted by the continued insistence on weight loss by their doctors (Ioannoni, 2022), the physical environments of their doctors’ offices (Shanouda, 2021), and the continued experience of anti-fat bias in these settings (Ioannoni, 2022). These experiences result in negative or non-existent relations with doctors and, ultimately, can result in denial of care (by the doctor) or avoidance of care (by the patient). Drawing on the experience of fat women in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), this paper, I explore how the anti-fat bias, held by health care professionals and inflicted on fat patients in health care settings, negatively impacts the doctor-patient relationship. The result of this impact is that many fat folks experience inadequate care, are afraid of visiting their doctor, and may avoid care altogether.

Fady Shanouda, Carleton University

The Politics of Jiggling

All bodies jiggle. Bodies have the capacity to shake, shudder, wobble, jerk, and bounce. However, the nuances of jiggling—such as which bodies jiggle, when they do, what parts of them jiggle, and in what spaces they jiggle—are all part of a set of inculcated colonial values that delimit the flow of the body in public space in what I have selected to call the politics of jiggling. Existing literature on jiggling has predominantly focused on women, particularly delving into the disciplinary practices that regulate women's bodies. These include the use of shaping garments like girdles and shapewear (Burns-Ardolino, 2007), the movement and sexualization of women's butts—often those of Black, Latinx, and women of color (Aubry, 2000; Beltrán, 2002; Barrera, 2002; Burns-Ardolino, 2009; Radke, 2022)—the co-optation and resistance of twerking (Radke, 2022; Johnson, 2023), the hypersexualization of fat women’s bodies in pornography (Hester, 2016), and the concept of “good fatties” ascribed to plus-size beauty queens whose bodies move less (Prohaska, 2022), among other topics. Scholars have developed numerous concepts to describe the containment and restraint of the body, including Marcel Mauss’s (1973) “techniques of the body,” Michel Foucault’s (1986) “technologies of the self,” and Iris Marion Young's (1990) exploration of feminine body comportment. Moreover, Judith Butler’s (1990) notion of gendered subjectivity as performative, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s (1997) concept of misfitting, and Robert McRuer’s (2006) idea of compulsory able-bodiedness have each made significant contributions to the field of body studies. These concepts collectively highlight a longstanding intellectual fascination with understanding how we learn, perceive, move, and mould our bodies. However, absent in much of this debate, including with Fat Studies, is the ways fat man experience fatmisia and aligned systems of oppression, including patriarchy and ableism, which contribute to the construction of their bodies’ natural movement as undesirable and unhealthy (see, Bell and McNaughton, 2007). In Gilman’s Fat Boys: A Slim Book (2004), she argues that portraying fat men as successful and beyond the reach of fatmisia is a misleading impression. Fat boys experience fatmisia and degradation of their bodies and gender. She argues fat boys “…change what the culture represents as male” (Gilman 2004, p. 9). Although Gilman (2004) does not address the issue, the capacity for fat men to jiggle raises questions about gender performativity, bodily capacitation, and issues around control, management, and restraint. By examining the limits surrounding the movement, sway, and jiggling of fat men’s bodies, we can gain insights into the intricate dynamics of power and resistance embedded in the body.