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Fat feminism or fat-positive feminism is a form of feminism that merges with fat activism and specifically addresses how misogyny and sexism intersect with sizism and anti-fat bias. Fat-positive feminists promote acceptance for women of all sizes. Fat feminism originated during second-wave feminism. However, fat-positive feminism is a growing field within third-wave feminism.
Why Fat Is A Feminist Issue
In the book Why Fat Is A Feminist Issue, Abigail Saguy says, "Others have argued that fat is a feminist issue because the fear of being or becoming fat tyrannizes average-size and relatively thin women, Limiting their quality of life and often leading to eating disorders. In contrast, Fikkan and Rothblum (2011) argue that fat is a feminist issue because fat women are subjected to bias, discrimination and abuse precisely because they are fat women."
According to Monica Persson, over 56 percent of obese or overweight women have answered that they have been treated disrespectfully by their physicians, and 46 percent view their physicians as uncomfortable with their weight.
Fat feminists argue that the likelihood of women to experience discrimination and medical complications increases proportionally with body size. Also argued is that size discrimination is associated with, and is similar to racism, sexism, and ageism.
Fat feminists oppose the concept of a fixed "ideal" figure for women imposed by the society. They scorn fat jokes on sitcoms, and the promotion of skinny figures seen on television, in Hollywood and on fashion catwalks. On average supermodels weigh 23 percent less than the average woman, and fewer than 5 percent of the female population have a supermodel figure. Fat feminists criticize these body-type ideals because for many real-life women these figures are impossible to achieve, pointing to findings, such as Kramer's 1989 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, that less than three percent of weight loss attempts are successful after five years. They believe this would put women at risk for distorted body image, anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, which can lead to death, especially among the young.
Fat feminists contest the belief that one cannot be overweight and physically healthy at the same time. Some of them promote the concept of Health at Every Size (HAES), an approach that focuses on a lifestyle of healthy behavior and consumption that does not necessarily focus on weight loss as an end goal.
Fat feminism and the related fat acceptance movement originated in the late 1960s during which second-wave feminism took place. During the late 60s and 70s, activists such as Sara Fishman, Dr. Franklin Igway, Judy Freespirit, and Karen Jones, now known as Karen Stimson, emerged. In 1973, Fishman and Freespirit released Fat Liberation Manifesto in which they opposed size discrimination as sexism. Their movement was met with mixed reactions during the 60s, the same decade when Twiggy-esque figures became fashionable. Some of the feminists, such as Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda active during the decade believed that removing traits of "femaleness" was necessary to gain entrance to a male-dominated society. Activists continued to hold demonstrations and continued their course of action. When the fat feminists did not get support from National Organization for Women, they founded organizations to advocate size acceptance, such as National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), Fat Underground, The Body Image Task Force (Santa Cruz) and The Body Positive.
During the 80s, the movement had mixed success. More organizations and publications against size discrimination were founded. The first fat feminist book, Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, by Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser was published in 1983. The first issue of Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women was published in 1984. Clothing brands and fashion magazines were founded during this time that targeted a plus-size audience. Fat feminists continued to sue diet programs for fraudulent claims. However, the popularity of the diet industry did not wane as it was boosted by the fitness boom during the 1980s. Americans continue to spend over $33 billion on diet products and programs.
In the 1990s, fat feminism was officially supported by National Organization for Women when the organization adopted an anti-size discrimination stance with no dissenting vote, and started a body image task force. In 1992, Mary Evans Young, a size-positive activist in England, launched International No Diet Day (INDD) which was planned as a picnic. Due to the rain, her plan failed, and the celebration was held indoors instead. In 1993 many American feminist groups joined in and 25 states participated in INDD's second annual celebration. International No Diet Day continues to be observed on May 6 each year.
In 1993, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Toni Cassista who filed a lawsuit against Community Foods, a store in Santa Cruz, California when she was not hired because of her size. This put an end to work discrimination based on weight in the state of California.
During the 90s the zine movement, the riot grrrl movement, and the Fat Liberation movement converged for many young activists, resulting in the publication of numerous fat feminist zines. Among these publications were Fat!So?: for people who don't apologize for their size, by Marilyn Wann, I'm So Fucking Beautiful by Nomy Lamm, and Fat Girl: a zine for fat dykes and the women who want them, produced by a collective in San Francisco from 1994-1997. In 1996 Toronto-based activist and performance art troupe Pretty Porky & Pissed Off (PPPO) was founded by Allyson Mitchell, Ruby Rowan and Mariko Tamaki. PPPO grew to include other members and worked as a collective until 2005 publishing their zine series, Double Double. Nomy Lamm was named by Ms. Magazine as a "Woman of the Year" in 1997, "For inspiring a new generation of feminists to fight back against fat oppression." In 1999 Marilyn Wann expanded her zine into the book Fat!So?: Because You Don't Have to Apologize for Your Size. In 2005, former Fat Girl collective members Max Airborne and Cherry Midnight published Size Queen: for Queen-Sized Queers and our Loyal Subjects.
The 2000s saw an increase in internet feminism and internet fat activism, which have often converged. The fat acceptance blogosphere has been dubbed the "fatosphere" and has enjoyed some positive publicity in mainstream publications. Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby, who are prominent fat bloggers, released a co-written self-help book in 2009 called "Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body", which has 27 chapters devoted to different topics, including body positivity, health at every size, and intuitive eating. In 2005 Linda Bacon conceived the Health at Every Size belief system, which rejects dieting and the weight-based paradigm of health. This has been adopted by many fat feminists. Beth Ditto, frontwoman of punk band The Gossip, who is vocal about fat acceptance, attained celebrity in the mid-2000s with the popularity of her band's 2006 album Standing in the Way of Control, which has raised awareness of the movement.
Intersections with other forms of feminism
Many of the authors in Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings By Women on Fat Oppression are lesbians, and many were involved in lesbian feminism. Their experience of fatness is different from that of straight fat women because of their experience of combined discrimination based on their sex, size and sexual orientation. Fat women of color have a different experience than fat white women because of their intersectional experiences of not only size discrimination and misogyny, but racism as well. In the first full issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972, Johnnie Tillmon wrote about the intersectionality of her experience as a fat black woman, "I'm a woman. I'm a black woman. I'm a poor woman. I'm a middle-aged woman. And I'm on welfare. If you're any one of those things, you count less as a person. If you're all of those things, you just don't count, except as a statistic."
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- Body image
- Fat acceptance movement
- International No Diet Day
- International Size Acceptance Association
- Marilyn Wann
- Nomy Lamm
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Over the last 20 years, women have become heavier while the beauty ideal has become leaner. In the general mania for thinness, Americans have come to see themselves as unacceptable. In fact, 75% of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance. Because of the constant pressure to be thin, many people try sporadically or constantly to lose weight by reducing the calories they consume. While on a low-calorie diet, the human body reacts as if it were being starved and tries to preserve as much energy as possible by decreasing its rate of metabolism. Any food taken in is held on to frantically by a body that isn't sure when it will be fed next. This helps explains why over 90% of reducing diets fail to produce permanent weight loss.
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- UK size acceptance site
- Fat Feminist Herstory, 1969-1993: A Personal Memoir by Karen W. Stimson
- Fat and Feminist Large Women's Health Experiences
- The Web of Size Acceptance: Internet Resources for Exploring a Feminist Issue
- Love Your Body
- Recent Lawsuits about Fat Discrimination
- Laurie Toby Edison's & Debbie Notkin's body image blog Body Impolitic