Fat feminism

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Fat feminism is a form of feminism that merges with the fat acceptance movement. This form of feminism specifically addresses how misogyny and sexism intersect with sizeism and anti-fat bias. Body-positive feminists promote acceptance for women of all sizes. Fat feminism originated during second-wave feminism. Now fat feminists main focus is eliminating perceived bias against fat people. Fat Feminist claim sizeists have negative opinions about people who are overweight such as being lazy, and eating unhealthy foods more often than they should.[1]


Early years[edit]

Fat feminism and the related fat acceptance movement originated in the late 1960s, alongside second-wave feminism. During the late 1960's and 1970's, activists such as Sara Fishman, Dr. Franklin Igway, Judy Freespirit, Aldebaran, and Karen Jones, now known as Karen Stimson, emerged. In 1973, Fishman and Freespirit released Fat Liberation Manifesto which opposed size discrimination, describing it as sexism. Their movement was met with mixed reactions during the 1960's, the same decade that very thin models, such as Twiggy, became fashionable. Some of the feminists, such as Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, who were active during the decade believed that removing traits of "femaleness" was necessary to gain entrance to a male-dominated society.[2] This ideal would make removing feminine curves, making fat unfeminist. Despite this, 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 Fat Underground (opened up by Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran),[3] The Body Image Task Force (Santa Cruz) and The Body Positive. The first fat feminist book, Fat is a Feminist Issue, by Susie Orbach was published in 1978.


During the 80's, the movement had mixed success. During this time more organizations and publications against size discrimination were founded. The first issue of Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women was published in 1984. Clothing brands and fashion magazines were founded that targeted a plus-size audience. Fat feminists were also suing 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. By the late 1990s, Americans were spending approximately $40 billion on diet products and programs.[4]

In the 1990s fat feminism was gaining steam. For the first time, 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.[5] In 1992, Mary Evans Young, a size-positive activist in England, launched International No Diet Day 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 the second annual celebration of International No Diet Day. It 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. As of early September 2018, 49 states can fire employees for gaining weight because of at-will employment. A study from Yale University shows that 10% of women and 5% of men experience weight discrimination at work.[6]

During the 1990s 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 The Fat Girl Collective in San Francisco from 1994-1997. In 1996, Toronto-based activist and performance art troupe Pretty Porky and Pissed Off) was founded by Allyson Mitchell, Ruby Rowan, and Mariko Tamaki. It 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."[7] 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.[citation needed] The fat acceptance blogosphere has been dubbed the "fatosphere"[8] 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. Bacon's System 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.


Shortly after Barack Obama had started his term as president, the first lady, Michelle Obama, began a campaign called "Let's Move" to draw attention to obesity in America and encourage people to work out, eat healthy and lose weight as a result in 2010.[3]

In May 2015, America met the "Dancing Man", Sean O'Brien, an overweight man who loves to dance. A Twitter user posted a picture of him dancing and another photo of him looking upset, captioning the photos with "caught this specimen dancing last week, he stopped when he saw us laughing." Soon after this was posted, Cassandra Fairbanks started a movement to get O'Brien to come to America and dance with the big leagues in Los Angeles where he was celebrated.[9]

At the beginning of 2016, Mattel released "Curvy Barbie." This line of Barbie's included dolls that were all shapes, sizes, and a select few of different ethnicities.[10] When asked about the doll the company said "getting rid of Barbie's thigh gap is part of 'evolving the images that come to mind when people talk about Barbie."[11] The company also says they are "listening to what girls are talking about." [11]

At the beginning of 2017, there was a new trend for fat feminists and body-positive activists to take control of how their fat was seen. The #Don'tHateTheShake videos posted all over social media, were about both fat men and women stripping down to their undergarments and dancing to upbeat music as if they were at a dance club. It was created by Melissa Gibson, but gained traction because of Megan Jayne Crabbe, who spreads body positivity over social media due to her large follower count. Crabbe has recently published a book about body positivity, that has yet to be published in the United States, called Body Positive Power.[12]

Intersections with other forms of feminism[edit]

Many of the authors in Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings By Women on Fat Oppression are lesbians, and many were involved in lesbian feminism.[13] Their experience of fatness is different from that of straight fat women[citation needed] 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.[14] Women of color also need to be represented in the media. People of color in general, overweight or not, are portrayed negatively in television shows, movies, and even major news channels.[15] Some examples of women of color in the media is bell hooks, Lauryn Hill, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Gabourey Sidibe.[16]

Fat feminism and women of color[edit]

Women of color experience fatness and the body positivity movement different than white women due to their experiences with racial oppression on top of anti-fat bias. According to A.A. Williams, women of color often do not view being fat as being synonymous with being unattractive.[17] They further opine that fat women of color use their weight and personal style as a way to counter dominant beauty standards that have historically been defined by whiteness.[18] Personal styles include having natural hair or dreads for black women as well as embracing larger and curvier figures.[18] Research suggests that women of color, as well as communities of color in general, may consider more body types as beautiful than white beauty standards.[18] However, because women of color are often excluded from fat positivity and acceptance movements, many have turned to social media as a way of finding inclusion within the fat feminist movement.[18] Fat women of color resist dominant beauty standards by creating intersectional frameworks for accepting fat women of all identities.[19] Fat women of color also work to resist fetishization by the male gaze or by those giving unwanted health advice while also creating positive and accepting spaces for themselves.[20][21]

When talking about the fat feminist movement, women of color are often overlooked and included less because of white privilege. According to the article Fat People of Color, studies show that "14% of the 1018 roles on prime-time television programming portrayed 'overweight' or 'obese' females" and even less are overweight women of color.[22] When these women are portrayed in social media it is often that they are over sexualized even for a young age.[22]

Theories that can be associated with fat feminism[edit]

A theory presented by Michel Foucault in his book The Perverse Implantation suggests that society plants ideas inside the minds of individuals all over the world which creates industries and in turn controls the people and the way their belief system works.[23] This is much like the dieting industry, built to help people overweight become "normal" which in a society such as this, the goal is to be thin or curvy, not fat.[improper synthesis?] Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, DetoxTea, surgical weight loss options, are all tailored towards individuals to lose weight. These are ideas fat feminists and body-positive activists are completely against. Laura S. Brown, author of Fat Oppression and Psychotherapy, examines that being fat isn't unhealthy.[24] The standards that we hold overweight individuals to, is what's unhealthy for these individuals. Bulimia, anorexia, depression, anxiety, etc., are all brought on because of the standards that society has over those who are considered outsiders to what's normal.[24]

How fat ties to feminism[edit]

There are many reasons why people[who?] consider fat to be a feminist issue. First, "several US health and women's studies scholars have declared obesity a feminist issue on the grounds that women, specifically African American and poor women, are more likely than men to be obese."[25] The marginalization women feel simply due to their gender can affect their eating habits in a negative way. Second, the intersection of obesity with race and socioeconomic status represents concerns in regards to environmental policy issues. Relating to this second reason is the idea that women, particularly women of color, are generally more likely to be obese than men because of things such as child rearing and a lack of access to fresh produce and goods. In addition, the mere idea of becoming fat has caused many women to develop an eating disorder that is sometimes detrimental or life altering. Moreover, women may overeat in an attempt to avoid being an object of the male gaze by making them more invisible to men's desires. Lastly, the intersectionality of being fat and being a woman is at the heart of fat feminism because discrimination and prejudice often occur as a result of gender and body type. The points above that connect fatness to feminism revolve around the varying experiences that body type can produce when combined with socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, and many other identities. [26]

Problems with fat feminism[edit]

While fat feminism has made positive changes in the world, it is not perfect. Within fat studies there is a sort of privilege for the overweight girl, and a disadvantage for the thin girl. This is called the anti-thin bias and can close up this form of feminism to a girl because of her body type.[27] This type of feminism also is very closed off to anyone who is not a white overweight girl. Overweight men and overweight women of color are often excluded from this movement. The article Feminism and the Invisible Fat Man discusses how fashion trends and body fashions may seem to affect women more, but men are just as affected.[28] Women of color experience the same kind of invisibility, they are not represented nearly as well as white women within this movement.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Connie., Sobczak (2014). Embody : learning to love your unique body (and quieting that critical voice!). Carlsbad, CA: Gürze Books. ISBN 9780936077819. OCLC 881567968.
  2. ^ Karen Stimson. "Fat Feminism: Politics and Perspective". Largesse, the Network for Size Esteem. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Sized Up: Why fat is a queer and feminist issue". Bitch Media. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  4. ^ "Eating Disorders: Facts". Perfect Illusions. PBS. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  5. ^ Wedwick, L. "The socialization of a reader: The literary treatment of fatness in adolescent fiction (Unpublished Thesis)". Illinois Statue University. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  6. ^ "49 States Legally Allow Employers to Discriminate Based on Weight". Time. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  7. ^ Ms. Magazine, January/February 1997
  8. ^ Cooper, Charlotte. "What's Fat Activism?" (PDF). University of Limerick Department of Sociology Working Paper Series. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2011.
  9. ^ Regan, Helen. "Man Fat-Shamed Online Gets VIP Dance Party in L.A." Time. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  10. ^ Rodriguez, Ashley. "Mattel has finally released a "curvy" Barbie". Quartz. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  11. ^ a b "Barbie in 2018 and beyond: How the doll is getting more 'inclusive'". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  12. ^ "The blogger sharing before and after pics with a twist". The Independent. 2017-02-07. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  13. ^ Jana Evans Braziel, Kathleen LeBesco (2001). Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression. University of California Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 9780520225855.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ Baturka, N.; Hornsby, P. P.; Schorling, J. B. (18 May 2004). "Clinical Implications of Body Image Among Rural African-American Women". Journal of General Internal Medicine. 15 (4): 235–241. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2000.06479.x. PMC 1495436. PMID 10759998.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  15. ^ Carter, Tyler J. The University of Mississippi, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2015. 1601156.
  16. ^ "Eight Body Positive Women of Color Who Have Inspired My Body Love Journey". New York. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  17. ^ Williams, A.A. Fat People of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse Online. Soc. Sci. 2017, 1-16, 5.
  18. ^ a b c d Williams, A.A. Fat People of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse Online. Soc. Sci. 2017, 1-16, 6.
  19. ^ Williams, A.A. Fat People of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse Online. Soc. Sci. 2017, 1-16, 7.
  20. ^ Williams, A.A. Fat People of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse Online. Soc. Sci. 2017, 1-16, 12.
  21. ^ Williams, A.A. Fat People of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse Online. Soc. Sci. 2017, 1-16, 6, 15.
  22. ^ a b c Williams, Apryl; Williams, Apryl A. (2017-02-14). "Fat People of Color: Emergent Intersectional Discourse Online". Social Sciences. 6 (1): 15. doi:10.3390/socsci6010015.
  23. ^ ""The Perverse Implantation" by Foucault". yoonbinmin. 2013-10-22. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  24. ^ a b Brown, Laura (1989). Fat Oppression and Psychotherapy. The Haworth Press. pp. 20–23. ISBN 0-86656-954-5.
  25. ^ "Login - CAS – Central Authentication Service". eds.b.ebscohost.com.libproxy.nau.edu. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  26. ^ Saguy, Abigail C. "Why Fat is a Feminist Issue", University of California, Los Angeles, 2012. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257663670_Why_Fat_is_a_Feminist_Issue
  27. ^ Nash, Meredith; Warin, Megan (2016-09-16). "Squeezed between identity politics and intersectionality: A critique of 'thin privilege' in Fat Studies". Feminist Theory. 18 (1): 69–87. doi:10.1177/1464700116666253. ISSN 1464-7001.
  28. ^ Bell, Kirsten; McNaughton, Darlene (March 2007). "Feminism and the Invisible Fat Man". Body & Society. 13 (1): 107–131. doi:10.1177/1357034x07074780. ISSN 1357-034X.


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