15 April 2009

Conference Report: Fat Studies at the PCA - 4

Fat Studies IV: Tight Fit: The Mental and Physical Experiences of Being Fat
Chair: Lesleigh Owen, Chaffey College

“The Women’s Sizes are in the Back”: Exclusion and Invisibility of Fat Female Bodies in Retail Space
Barb’ra-Anne Carter, University of Oklahoma

Barb’ra-Anne began her presentation by talking about the way that fat bodies are constructed in geography, as deviant and boundary-defying, and yet as boundaried. She referred to the "political economy of food, goods and services" and how this intersects with how fat people engage with the built environment. Her current research, and the subject of this paper, was about how retail space contributes to the social exclusion of fat women. Barb’ra-Anne argued that this occurred in several ways: the geographical location of fat shops and the lack of fat shops in certain socio-economically boundaried areas (she contrasted Beverley Hills with Crenshaw in Los Angeles); the movement of fat retail space online from bricks and mortar shops; and the recreation of fat identity in magazine advertisements. She talked about David Sibley's notion of placelessness, that fat women experience this and that it is important to create "spaces of acceptance open to people of all sizes."

A Difficult Fit: Space, Fatness and the University
Amy Gullage, University of Toronto

Foucault's panopticon and concept of biopower was applied by Amy to a sample of fat undergraduates at a number of Canadian universities. She wondered how fat women experienced the disciplining space in three areas of the university: on campus, in university residences and at sports facilities. Amy's discussion considered the smallness of furniture, which reinforces senses of who does and who does not belong in university lecture halls. She remarked upon a blurring of public and private space in the residences, where members of her sample reported that they ate alone or were forced to negotiate heterosexist and fatphobic activities, as well as the unwelcoming atmosphere of the sports facilities where, she noted, fat is most visible in the cultural spaces where it is problematised.

Fatness as a Liminal Experience
Hannele Harjunen, UmeƄ University Centre for Gender Studies

Hannele's work on liminality was contextualised amongst her previous papers that seek to explore fat experience: normalisation, medicalisation and stigmatisation; processes that shape how we think about, produce and maintain fat identities. Liminality is a term used by the anthropologist van Gennep to discuss rites of passage, but Hannele uses it as a "category of experience," a process that happens over long periods of time, that relates to a transitional state. In her fieldwork Hannele found that fat participants talked about their bodies as being transitional, even when they had been fat for many years. The implicit assumption is that thinness is their "real" bodily state, and that they harboured a constant expectation of change. This was likened, metaphorically, to "being in a waiting room" and Hannele expressed shock that fat people were postponing their lives indefinitely. She described this liminal state as being problematic because it denies the possibility for constructing more positive fat identities and conceptualises fatness as unreal, a kind of purgatory.

1 comment:

Layna said...

thank you for posting these summaries! I wish I could have been there.