Emerging 'fat studies' conference challenges supersize stereotypes
By Neil Sands, AFP
July 16, 2012, 12:09 am TWN
WELLINGTON -- Cat Pause proudly describes herself as "fat," can live with euphemisms like "curvy," "chunky" or "chubby," but baulks at what she believes are value-laden labels such as "overweight" or "obese."
The U.S.-born academic is a pioneer in the emerging field of fat studies, organizing New Zealand's first conference on the topic at Massey University's Wellington campus on Thursday and Friday.
Fat studies, she explains, is an academic discipline just like history, English or political science, but it examines attitudes toward fat people and challenges the assumption that anyone with a bulging waistline is unhealthy.
At the conference, scholars from as far afield as the United States and Australia discussed papers such as "Fat hatred and the Left in the time of 'the obesity epidemic'" and "The role of diagnosis in marginalizing corpulence."
"One of the reasons we're so fearful and hateful of fat is that we believe we can read people's bodies," Pause told AFP.
"So when people look at a fat body like mine, it tells them I'm unhealthy and that this is a diseased body. It tells them I don't ever exercise and eat nothing but junk."
Pause said the reality is that some people are just bigger than others and fat studies highlighted the need for society to accept the fact, rather than constantly judging fat people and pushing them to lose weight.
One of its first tasks, she said, was to reclaim the word "fat" so it was not used solely as an insult, in much the same way the gay community adopted the term "queer."