Fat Studies


We're Here, We're Fat, Get Used To It?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sondra Solovay and Esther Rothblum, co-editors of The Fat Studies Reader, tell Brian Lehrer we need to stop obsessing about weight -- and start accepting fat people.

Brian Lehrer: First off, Esther, we are supposed to use the word fat right this has been reclaimed by the movement.

Esther Rothblum: That’s right. The word fat focuses exactly on what we’re looking at and that’s body fat. For example, if we just talk about weight, somebody who is tall and thin may actually weigh more than someone who is short and fat. If you think about elite athletes like Serena Williams the tennis star, she has a lot more muscle, let’s say than someone who doesn’t play tennis so she would weigh more.

But fat studies scholars use that term just the way other oppressed groups have reclaimed words like people of African decent reclaimed the word black and some young gay men and lesbians are reclaiming the word queer. So what words like fat and black and queer have in common is people are saying let's take a word that really says who we are, perhaps even a word that’s been used negatively and let’s reclaim it.

Lehrer: We have a history, Sonrda Solovay, of increasing obesity in the United State to the point where now the National Institutes of Health defines over 60% of Americans as overweight or obese. That’s a lot more than it used to be. So if we’re going to look at fatness as in the category of civil rights and say that it’s like being black or it's like being queer, can we really go there, because since this is something that behavior is causing?

Sondra Solovay: First of all, I don’t agree with your assumption that this is something that behavior is causing.

Lehrer: At least for a large percentage of obese people, is that not accurate?

Solovay: No, I think it's way more complicated then that simple sentence. I know that the discourse that people have about weight makes it seem just that simple. Calories in, calories out, don’t sit on the couch, don’t eat donuts, you’ll be thin. But, in fact, there have always been fat people and there always will be fat people. And what we do is, we change the definitions of who is fat, literally overnight. The definition of who was fat was changed several years ago, around the time when my first book was coming out, so that people who went to bed not fat, woke up fat just because we changed how we defined that.