15 April 2009

Conference Report: Fat Studies at the PCA - 6

Fat Studies VI: Making a Big, Fat Difference: Fat Activism
Chair: Charlotte Cooper, University of Limerick

Sheana Director, of Bowing Green State University, was unable to attend to present her paper: (E)Rac(e)ing the Movement: Intersections of Race and Fat in Contemporary Fat Rights Activism.

Fat Therapist, Fat Activist
Kari Petersen, counselor, activist

Kari discussed the ways in which her activism influences her practice, how she's less interested in "in your face" activism and more motivated by micro aspects of activism, "the internal struggle." Kari talked about her first experience of therapy as a client, she said that she knew about the diet industry and knew it was wrong, but that she was unable to talk about fatphobia in therapy with her fat therapist, that this related to the therapists' own reluctance to talk, and in retrospect sees this as a break in the therapeutic alliance that was never repaired. As an activist Kari wanted to stop repeating those same mistakes. She went on to talk about the dual identities of activist and therapist, for example how she must remain as a containing presence for her client whereas she might walk away from a fatphobic situation in the outside world. She talked about how she shares information about fat positive initiatives with her clients, and that empathy and active listening can be as therapeutic for people as activism, and that both roles offer healing.

Identity and Inclusion: Expanding Fat Activism
Meghan Griffin, University of Central Florida

Meghan framed her presentation by asking "who counts as fat and who is a part of the movement?" She talked about BMI charts, its critical history and application, as well as its possibilities for subversion by activists. Meghan referred to Kate Harding's illustrated BMI categories, which humanises and undermines the chart. However, Meghan suggested that the use of the BMI as an activist resource can be problematic, that it can promote shame, that it may support the BMI, and that there are risks associated in using it.

The Story of the Chubsters
Charlotte Cooper, University of Limerick

I talked about my semi-fictitious girl gang, explaining its history and evaluating its position. I used The Chubsters to talk about wider issues about what constitutes fat activism, or a fat activist movement; how activists can use the media to tell our own stories and create our own culture and paradigms; how to use of inclusion as a political strategy; the value of fat freakhood; and the strategical uses of a fat activist imagination. I suggested that fat activism, and Fat Studies, is multi-faceted, that it is unlikely to be reduced to singular fat narratives, and that The Chubsters is a new kind of postmodern activism. Afterwards Weasel and I jumped in a handful of new Chubsters!

Reflecting on the panels

Phew, we made it to the last panel! What a marathon of fatty goodness! I've neglected to report on the discussions that happened towards the end of each panel discussion because of ethical concerns about consent, but I wanted to add that these were really powerful and insightful. Nobody said anything that wasn't considered and intelligent, which is pretty remarkable when you think of how much rubbish is talked about fat in the wider culture.

Activism and scholarship intertwined throughout all the panels, in my opinion, with people expressing a real hunger for a fat liberation movement that was inclusive, diverse, intellectual, critically aware and nuanced. What I loved especially about this conference was that the co-chairs Julia McCrossin and Lesleigh Owen were committed to creating panels that were open to non-American voices. I believe that this is crucial in opening out debates and making them relevant in a wider sense. Even though Fat Studies is a young and emergent discipline, it was great to see a wide range of scholarship on display and added to my conviction that fat offers a series of lenses through which to examine 21st century culture.

Edited to add: oh look, Julia uploaded some pics.


Trabb's Boy said...

Thank you so much for summarizing all that! It sounds like a fantastic conference and I am very envious. Something like that reallly gives me hope that the fat positive movement will grow -- it looks like it has both lots of great attitude and some real intellectual power behind it.

Anonymous said...

I'm still irritated PCA put half of the fat studies panels on Saturday, which was the day I had to leave for home, so I missed most of the papers and discussion. They lumped much of the fan studies stuff into the first couple of days before I was able to get there and be ready to go to panels too, so the conference was a bit of a bust for me. But I'm glad the conversation was productive for those who were there.