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Fat feminism is a social movement that incorporates feminist themes of equality, social justice, and cultural analysis based on the weight of a woman or a non-binary feminine person. This branch of feminism intersects misogyny and sexism with anti-fat bias. Fat feminists advocate body-positive acceptance for women, regardless of their weight. There is also a focus on eliminating biases experienced directly or indirectly by overweight people. Fat feminism originated during second-wave feminism and is aligned with the fat acceptance movement.
- 1 History
- 2 Intersections with other forms of feminism
- 3 Theories that can be associated with fat feminism
- 4 How body size ties to feminism
- 5 Problems with fat feminism
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
Fat feminism and the related fat acceptance movement originated in the late 1960s alongside second-wave feminism. In 1973, Vivian Mayer and Judy Freespirit released Fat Liberation Manifesto, which described size discrimination as sexism. Their efforts was met with mixed reactions during that decade, when very thin models, such as Twiggy, became fashionable. Some feminists, such as Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, believed that removing traits of "femaleness," such as feminine curves, was necessary for admittance to a male-dominated society.
When the fat feminists did not get support from the National Organization for Women, they established new organizations to advocate size acceptance, such as Fat Underground, The Body Image Task Force, and The Body Positive.
More organizations and publications against size discrimination were founded during this time. The first issue of Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women was published in 1984. Clothing brands and fashion magazines that targeted a plus-size audience became more common. Fat feminists also filed lawsuits against diet programs for fraudulent claims. However, due to the 1980s fitness boom, fat feminism had to fight the increasing popularity of the diet industry. By the late 1990s, Americans were spending over $40 billion on diet products and programs annually.
In the 1990s, fat feminism became increasingly popular. For the first time, fat feminism was officially supported by the National Organization for Women when the organization adopted an anti-size discrimination stance and started a body image task force. In 1992, Mary Evans Young, a size-positive activist in England, launched International No Diet Day, which continues to be an annual tradition.
In 1993, Toni Cassista filed a lawsuit against Community Foods, a store in Santa Cruz, California, when she was not hired because of her size. The California Supreme Court ruled in her favor, creating a precedent of discrimination based on weight. Currently, all other states can fire employees for gaining weight because due to at-will employment. A study from Yale University shows that 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men experience weight discrimination at work.
During the 1990s, the zine, the riot grrrl, and the Fat Liberation movements converged for young activists, resulting in the publication of numerous fat feminist zines. Among these 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 to 1997.
In 1996, a 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." 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 cowritten self-help book in 2009 called "Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body", which is 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 for the punk band The Gossip, attained celebrity in the mid-2000's with the popularity of her band's 2006 album Standing in the Way of Control, which also helped raise awareness for the movement.
Shortly after President Obama started his first term, 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.
In May 2015, Sean O'Brien, an overweight man from Liverpool, was filmed dancing in public. 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 these posts, Cassandra Fairbanks started a movement to get O'Brien to attend a party in Los Angeles. Over 1,000 people attended the party, including DJ Moby and Monica Lewinsky. The event raised over $70,000 for anti-bullying charities and positive-body-image programs in the U.S. and the U.K.
In 2015, retail company Lane Bryant launched the ImNoAngel campaign in direct response to Victoria's Secret's preference for mainstream beauty standards. The campaign began with a diverse array of plus-size models sharing the fact that they feel sexy in Cacique, Lane Bryant's underwear line. According to company CEO Linda Heasley "Our #ImNoAngel campaign is designed to empower ALL women to love every part of herself. Lane Bryant firmly believes that she is sexy and we want to encourage her to confidently show it, in her own way." In conjunction with the campaign, LB also started the #ImNoAngel Challenge which paired with I Am B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.™, a nonprofit dedicated to building self-esteem and leadership skills in young girls and women. LB announced it would match up to $100,000 during the campaign.
In 2016, Mattel released "Curvy Barbie." This line of Barbie's included dolls that were all shapes, sizes, and different ethnicities. When asked 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." The company also says they are "listening to what girls are talking about."
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 on social media, were about both overweight men and women stripping down to their undergarments and dancing to upbeat music as if they were at a dance club. Created by Melissa Gibson, it gained traction from Megan Jayne Crabbe, who spreads body positivity on social media. Crabbe has published a book about body positivity called Body Positive Power.
Intersections with other forms of feminism
Fat feminism and women of color
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The intersection of race, gender, and bodily discrimination mean large women of color experience bias differently than their white female counterparts. Women of color often do not view being overweight as being synonymous with being unattractive. They further state that large women of color use their weight and personal style as a way to counter dominant beauty standards that have historically been defined by white standards: This include having natural hair or dreadlocks for black women as well as embracing larger and curvier figures. Research suggests that women of color, as well as communities of color in general, may consider more body types attractive than white beauty standards. 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 movements. Overweight women of color resist dominant beauty standards by creating intersectional frameworks for accepting fat women of all identities. Fat women of color work to resist fetishization by the male gaze or those giving unwanted health advice, while also creating positive and accepting spaces for themselves.
When talking about the fat feminist movement, women of color can often be overlooked, and some have suggested that white privilege is the cause. According to the article "Fat People of Color," studies show that "14% of the 2018 roles on prime-time television programming portrayed 'overweight' or 'obese' females" and even less for overweight women of color."
Intersections with lesbian feminism
Many of the authors in Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings By Women on Fat Oppression (1983) are lesbians, and many were involved in lesbian feminism. Their experience of being overweight is seen as distinct from that of heterosexual women given the experience of combined discrimination based on their sex, size, and sexual orientation.
Theories that can be associated with fat feminism
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A theory presented by Michel Foucault in his book The Perverse Implantation suggests that society plants ideas inside the minds of individuals which creates industries and in turn controls the people and their belief system. This is much like the dieting industry, built to help people overweight become "normal" which in Western society, the goal is to be thin or curvy, not fat. Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, DetoxTea, and surgical weight loss options, are all tailored towards losing weight, and such ideas are what fat feminists and body-positive activists resist. Laura S. Brown, the author of Fat Oppression and Psychotherapy, says that being overweight is not unhealthy. The standards that we hold overweight individuals to, is what is considered unhealthy for these individuals. Bulimia, anorexia, depression, and anxiety, are all believed to be brought on because of the standards that society has over those considered social outsiders.
How body size ties to feminism
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There are many reasons why large body sizes can 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." Second, the intersection of obesity with race and socioeconomic status, represents concerns over 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. Moreover, women may overeat in an attempt to avoid being an object of the male gaze by making themselves more invisible to men's desires. Lastly, the intersectionality of being large 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 other identities.
Problems with fat feminism
While fat feminism has made positive changes, there are still significant problems. Within fat studies, there is a privilege for an overweight girl, and a disadvantage for a thin girl. This is called the anti-thin bias and can exclude women of other body types, in direct contradiction to the movement's original goal. Fat feminism also excludes anyone who is not a white overweight female. Feminism and activists like the Invisible Fat Man discusses how fashion trends and body fashions may seem to affect women more, but men can be just as affected. Women of color experience the same kind of invisibility, yet they are not represented nearly as much as white women within the movement.
- Body image
- Fat acceptance movement
- International No Diet Day
- International Size Acceptance Association
- Marilyn Wann
- Nomy Lamm
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