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Fat feminism

Fat feminism or fat-positive feminism is a form of feminism that merges with fat activism and specifically addresses how misogyny and sexism intersect with sizism and anti-fat bias. Fat-positive feminists promote acceptance for women of all sizes. Fat feminism originated during second-wave feminism. However, fat-positive feminism is a growing field within third-wave feminism.[1]


According to Monica Persson, over 56 percent of obese or overweight women have answered that they have been treated disrespectfully by their physicians, and 46 percent view their physicians as uncomfortable with their weight.[2]

Fat feminists argue that the likelihood of women to experience discrimination and medical complications increases proportionally with body size. Also argued is that size discrimination is associated with, and is similar to racism, sexism, and ageism.[citation needed]

Body image

Fat feminists oppose the concept of a fixed "ideal" figure for women imposed by the society. They scorn fat jokes on sitcoms, and the promotion of skinny figures seen on television, in Hollywood and on fashion catwalks. On average supermodels weigh 23 percent less than the average woman, and fewer than 5 percent of the female population have a supermodel figure.[3] Fat feminists criticize these body-type ideals because for many real-life women these figures are impossible to achieve, pointing to findings, such as Kramer's 1989 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, that less than three percent of weight loss attempts are successful after five years.[4] They believe this would put women at risk for distorted body image, anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, which can lead to death, especially among the young.[citation needed]


Fat feminists contest the belief that one cannot be overweight and physically healthy at the same time. Some of them promote the concept of Health at Every Size (HAES), an approach that focuses on a lifestyle of healthy behavior and consumption that does not necessarily focus on weight loss as an end goal.[citation needed]


Early years

Fat feminism and the related fat acceptance movement originated in the late 1960s during which second-wave feminism took place. During the late 60s and 70s, activists such as Sara Fishman, Dr. Franklin Igway, Judy Freespirit, and Karen Jones, now known as Karen Stimson, emerged. In 1973, Fishman and Freespirit released Fat Liberation Manifesto in which they opposed size discrimination as sexism. Their movement was met with mixed reactions during the 60s, the same decade when Twiggy-esque figures became fashionable. Some of the feminists, such as Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda active during the decade believed that removing traits of "femaleness" was necessary to gain entrance to a male-dominated society.[5] Activists continued to hold demonstrations and continued their course of action. When the fat feminists did not get support from National Organization for Women, they founded organizations to advocate size acceptance, such as National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), Fat Underground, The Body Image Task Force (Santa Cruz) and The Body Positive.


During the 80s, the movement had mixed success. More organizations and publications against size discrimination were founded. The first fat feminist book, Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, by Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser was published in 1983. The first issue of Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women was published in 1984. Clothing brands and fashion magazines were founded during this time that targeted a plus-size audience. Fat feminists continued to sue diet programs for fraudulent claims. However, the popularity of the diet industry did not wane as it was boosted by the fitness boom during the 1980s. Americans continue to spend over $33 billion on diet products and programs.[6]

In the 1990s, fat feminism was officially supported by National Organization for Women when the organization adopted an anti-size discrimination stance with no dissenting vote, and started a body image task force.[7] In 1992, Mary Evans Young, a size-positive activist in England, launched International No Diet Day (INDD) which was planned as a picnic. Due to the rain, her plan failed, and the celebration was held indoors instead. In 1993 many American feminist groups joined in and 25 states participated in INDD's second annual celebration. International No Diet Day continues to be observed on May 6 each year.

In 1993, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Toni Cassista who filed a lawsuit against Community Foods, a store in Santa Cruz, California when she was not hired because of her size. This put an end to work discrimination based on weight in the state of California.

During the 90s the zine movement, the riot grrrl movement, and the Fat Liberation movement converged for many young activists, resulting in the publication of numerous fat feminist zines. Among these publications 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 a collective in San Francisco from 1994-1997. In 1996 Toronto-based activist and performance art troupe Pretty Porky & Pissed Off (PPPO) was founded by Allyson Mitchell, Ruby Rowan and Mariko Tamaki. PPPO 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."[8] 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"[9] and has enjoyed some positive publicity in mainstream publications. Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby, who are prominent fat bloggers, released a co-written self-help book in 2009 called "Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body", which has 27 chapters 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. This has been adopted by many fat feminists. Beth Ditto, frontwoman of punk band The Gossip, who is vocal about fat acceptance, attained celebrity in the mid-2000s with the popularity of her band's 2006 album Standing in the Way of Control, which has raised awareness of the movement.

Intersections with other forms of feminism

Many of the authors in Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings By Women on Fat Oppression are lesbians, and many were involved in lesbian feminism.[10] Their experience of fatness is different from that of straight fat women because of their experience of combined discrimination based on their sex, size and sexual orientation. Fat women of color have a different experience than fat white women because of their intersectional experiences of not only size discrimination and misogyny, but racism as well.[11] In the first full issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972, Johnnie Tillmon wrote about the intersectionality of her experience as a fat black woman, "I'm a woman. I'm a black woman. I'm a poor woman. I'm a middle-aged woman. And I'm on welfare. If you're any one of those things, you count less as a person. If you're all of those things, you just don't count, except as a statistic."


  • Malson, Helen and Burns, Maree, eds. Critical Feminist Approaches to Eating Dis/Orders, Routledge, 2009.
  • Murray, Samantha. The 'Fat' Female Body, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  • Orbach, Susan. Fat Is a Feminist Issue, Arrow Books; New edition, 2006.
  • Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Tenth Anniversary Edition, University of California Press, 2004.
  • Braziel, Jana Evans and LeBesco, Kathleen. Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression, University of California Press, 2001.
  • Manton, Catherine. Fed Up: Women and Food in America, Praeger, 1999.
  • Malson, Hellen. The Thin Woman: Feminism, Post-structuralism and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa (Women and Psychology), Routledge, 1997.
  • Cole, Ellen and Rothblum, Esther D. and Thone, Ruth R. Fat: A Fate Worse Than Death? : Women, Weight, and Appearance (Haworth Innovations in Feminist Studies), Routledge, 1997.
  • Hirschmann, Jane R. When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies: Freeing Yourself from Food and Weight Obsession, Ballantine Books, 1996.
  • Fallon, Patricia and Katzman, Melanie A. and Wooley, Susan C., eds. Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders, The Guilford Press, 1996.
  • MacSween, Morag. Anorexic Bodies: A Feminist and Sociological Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa, Routledge, 1995.
  • Rothblum, Esther D. and Brown, Laura. Fat Oppression and Psychotherapy: A Feminist Perspective, Routledge, 1990.
  • Parker, Patricia A. Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property, Methuen, 1988.
  • Harding, Kate and Kirby, Marianne. Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body, 2009.
  • Various. Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, Aunt Lute Books, 1995.
  • Frater, Lara. Fat Chicks Rule!: How To Survive in a Thin-Centric World, Gamble Guides, 2005.
  • Farrell Erdman, Amy. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture, 2011.
  • Shaw Elizabeth, Andrea. The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women's Unruly Political Bodies, Lexington Books, 2006.
  • Kinzel, Lesley. Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body, The Feminist Press, 2012.
  • Goodman, Charisse. The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America

See also


  1. ^ Willett, Julie (2010). TheAmerican Beauty Industry Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 114. ISBN 0313359490. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Monica Persson (1996). "Fat and Feminist Large Women's Health Experience". Archived from the original on 18 December 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2013. Over the last 20 years, women have become heavier while the beauty ideal has become leaner. In the general mania for thinness, Americans have come to see themselves as unacceptable. In fact, 75% of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance. Because of the constant pressure to be thin, many people try sporadically or constantly to lose weight by reducing the calories they consume. While on a low-calorie diet, the human body reacts as if it were being starved and tries to preserve as much energy as possible by decreasing its rate of metabolism. Any food taken in is held on to frantically by a body that isn't sure when it will be fed next. This helps explains why over 90% of reducing diets fail to produce permanent weight loss. 
  3. ^ Kate Fox (1997). "Mirror, mirror - A summary of research findings on body image". Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  4. ^ "Kramer, F.M., Snell, M.K., Forster, J.L., Jeffery, R.W. Long-term follow-up of behavior treatment for obesity: Patterns of weight regain among men and women. International Journal of Obesity 13(2), 123-136."
  5. ^ Karen Stimson. "Fat Feminism: Politics and Perspective". Largesse, the Network for Size Esteem. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Some Weighty Statistics[dead link]
  7. ^ "Report on Discrimination Due to Physical Size". Lectic Law Library. 7 October 1994. Archived from the original on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Ms. Magazine, January/February 1997
  9. ^ Cooper, Charlotte. "What’s Fat Activism?" (PDF). University of Limerick Department of Sociology Working Paper Series. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 July 2011. 
  10. ^ Jana Evans Braziel, Kathleen LeBesco (2001). Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression. University of California Press. pp. 137–138. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Baturka, N.; Hornsby, P. P.; Schorling, J. B. (18 May 2004). "Clinical Implications of Body Image Among Rural African-American Women". Journal of General Internal Medicine. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2000.06479.x. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 

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