Mainstream Media Discover Fat Acceptance

Laurie and Debbie say:

In June, the Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research, under the direction of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, released the report of its 2022 Anti-Bigotry Convening. The convening, and the report, are notable in many aspects: the reason we mention it here is that this is the first time we’ve seen “anti-fat bigotry” listed in the kinds of bigotry being studied, along with everything from racism to religious intolerance.

Was it an outlier or indication of a trend? The fight against fatphobia has been going on for over fifty years — and we have been part of it for much of that time. However, it has largely been confined to marginalized conversations and communities. As we noted in our 2022 Fat Studies article, ‘The Trajectory of Fat Liberation,” Susie Orbach’s Fat Is a Feminist Issue, published in 1978, was a best-seller, but we would be hard put to name another major mainstream examination of these issues in the intervening years.


The winds may just be shifting. The Anti-Bigotry Convening was one example. The Lyft Bikes ad at the top of this post is another, as is the Target swimsuit video ad just above. And then, On the Media, a WNYC radio show and podcast which focuses on major issues of the day, with some forays into popular culture and other topics, did an entire show on fat (“The F-Word”)–which was both wide-ranging and extremely positive.

The show has four segments:

1) host Brooke Gladstone talks with Dr Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian professor of family medicine, who is among a group of Canadian physicians challenging the medical profession’s assumptions about fat … and specifically the kneejerk and potentially incorrect correlations of Covid-19 and fat. Dr. Freedhoff also discusses a groundbreakingly different alternative to BMI, which *gasp* actually takes into account whether or not a person’s weight is affecting their life … and starts with the premise that if it isn’t, no doctors have to even take weight into account.

2) next up is the amazing epidemiologist Dr. Katherine Flegal, the mover and shaker behind the famous (and very large) 2005 study that determined (among many other things) that “overweight” people live longer than “normal weight” people, and that “obese” people (the category above overweight) are not far behind. Dr. Flegal talks about the backlash to her study, still going strong 17 years later.

3) Katie Lebesco, who has written favorably about our work, talks about the history of how fat became a moral panic.

4) finally, sociologist Sabrina Strings discusses the art and philosophy of the Enlightenment, and the role of 18th century racism in the development of anti-fat bigotry. We hope to write more about this later.

A nod from anti-racist research, two mainstream advertisements and a major radio show episode don’t make a movement. What they do, we hope, is signal a different era of mainstream news and advertisements … and the potential to change some people’s (including some medical professionals) structural anti-fat assumptions.


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