Laurie Toby Edison

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Academically Fat

Laurie and Debbie say:

Fat: It’s not just for the diet ads any more.

Immediately after Thanksgiving, the New York Times ran an article about the growing fat studies movement. Although the article focuses on a conference that happened six months ago at Smith College, if you read it carefully, you’ll see that it’s actually about fat studies: conferences, journals, books, experts, courses … and, of course, naysayers.

It has taken a few decades for the subject to shift from public finger-wagging by fat advocates to study in the classroom. Susan Koppelman, a retired professor of women’s studies and editor of The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe, a collection of essays on body politics, likened it to the other social and political movements of the last century that gained credence on college campuses.

“How far back does the black civil rights movement go in America before we have a field called African-American studies?” Ms. Koppelman said. “The academic world, like the American government, has a system of checks and balances that makes change very slow to happen.”

For us, reading this article is like visiting old friends: we’ve worked many of the people mentioned, including Marilyn Wann, Sandra Solovay, Esther Rothblum, Kathleen LeBesco, and Elena Escalera. It’s very exciting to see our work gaining this kind of legitimacy, and national attention.

We agree with Susan Stinson about the bookshelf illustration: “It’s symptomatic of a kind of visual smirking that the mainstream media regularly indulges in when the subject is fat … that I find gratuitous and insulting.”

As for the anti-fat commentators quoted in the article, they are (as usual) underinformed, wrong, and just plain boring:

“People sometimes use the fact that there are controversies in science to disparage all of science or to neglect the fact that there’s also a lot of consensus in science,” Professor Krimsky said. “Sometimes people on the margins that are critiquing the mainstream can be right. You have to have permeable walls in science. But that doesn’t mean the critics of today are going to be the mainstream of tomorrow.”

We know that “consensus in science” has, at various times in the past, been sure that tomatoes were poisonous, that the four-minute mile was a physical impossibility, and that African-American brain cases were physically smaller than European-American brain cases. (P.S. None of these things are or were ever true.)

Sometimes the critics of today are the mainstream of tomorrow. Which is why it’s important to see us getting attention today.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for being first with the pointer.

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One Response to “Academically Fat”

  1. Pierres Service » Blog Archive » Academically Fat Says:

    [...] Susan Koppelman, a retired professor of womenÂ’s studies and editor of The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe, a collection of essays on body politics, likened it to the other social and political movements of the last century that …Read more: here [...]

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