Elevate Difference

The Fat Studies Reader

The Fat Studies Reader is a collection of groundbreaking essays in this interdisciplinary field. The book is divided into six sections that include a historical overview of fatness, fat studies in health and medicine, social inequality, discrimination in popular culture, and embracing fatness.

The Fat Studies Reader argues that size-ism is unacceptable and that fat phobia exists both in popular culture and in the medical industry. The writers assert that instead of “combating obesity” and medicalizing fatness, our culture should recognize that people can be healthy or unhealthy at all weights. Being fat should not be seen as a personal failing, and oppression and ridicule of fat people should not be acceptable in popular culture.

As a graduate student who has done quite a bit of reading in the field of public health and diet-related chronic disease, I admit to being somewhat skeptical about the nonchalant attitude some of the writers have toward the relationship between obesity and health, particularly in Paul Ernsberger's essay “Does Social Class Explain the Connection Between Weight and Health?” Ernsberger argues that the widespread belief that being poor puts one at risk for obesity is wrong, and makes a somewhat astonishing claim that “a stronger case can be made for converse: fatness is impoverishing.” Ernsberger’s argument counters abundant research that has shown the relationship between low socioeconomic status, obesity, and diet-related diseases.

Even though I disagreed with many of the essays in the “Fat Studies in Health and Medicine” section, I found much of interest in this volume. The essays about portrayals of fatness and race in popular culture were particularly instructive. The Fat Studies Reader is very likely to challenge readers’ preconceptions, regardless of the open mindedness they may bring to the book. Exploring unexamined assumptions is a very important accomplishment of this collection.

Written by: Liz Simmons, March 19th 2010

Hi! This is just came up in a search. Please don't categorize me as one who has a nonchalant attitude about the relationship of obesity and health. I just argue that causality does not link obesity and health in a simple direct way. Obesity leads to discrimination which leads to poverty and poor health outcomes. Also, in some cases unhealthy lifestyles can lead both to obesity and to ill health. In these cases, I would argue that interventions should target the lifestyle rather than the body size.