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A Fat Studies Literature Review

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									Fat Studies: Mapping the Field


An extensive body of literature concerning obesity already exists, but this paper
seeks to map the field of an emerging body of work that is critical of that dominant
discourse. Although it has been most recently mobilised by the rhetoric of an
assumed global obesity epidemic, or moral panic around fatness, Fat Studies has an
extensive history and interdisciplinary literature which questions and problematises
traditional understandings of obesity and draws upon the language, culture and
theory of civil rights, social justice and social change. Fat Studies enables the
reframing of the problem of obesity, where it is not the fat body that is at issue, but
the cultural production of fatphobia. Given the powerful commercial, ideological and
institutional interest in maintaining dominant obesity discourse, such reframing is
contested. Nevertheless, this paper demonstrates that Fat Studies offers dynamic
new possibilities for social scientists interested in using fat as an interrogative lens.

Fat Studies: Mapping the Field

This paper maps Fat Studies, an emerging interdisciplinary academic field, that is
ripe for sociological exploration. Fat Studies is thrillingly complex, features multiple
actors and perspectives, has potential for exciting theoretical and empirical research,
combines popular and high academic discourse with social justice concerns, and is
beginning to articulate an area of human life where there is a hunger, pun intended,
for clarity and understanding.

In this paper I consider some of the key themes and texts within Fat Studies as a
means of introducing the field to those unfamiliar with it. My goal here is to show that
there is much more to fat than the reductive miserlyness of dominant obesity
discourse and contemporary obesity epidemic, and that work which considers
fatness can be original, splendid and life-affirming. It is my aim that, as the paper
progresses, readers will become aware of the richness within Fat Studies discourse,
and be inspired to take on some of the work of expanding this field.

So let us begin by acknowledging that there is already a vast literature available on
obesity which defines fatness as a pathological medical, psychological and social
phenomenon. Under the mantra of treatment and prevention, fatness is a problem
that requires a solution, that is, the physical reduction of the fat body, and the
elimination of the potential for individuals to become fat.

Some of the writers mentioned below support that idea of fatness as pathology, yet
critique various aspects – for example policy, medical evidence – which position it
thus. Others regard the fixing of fat bodies as a dangerous and irrelevant goal, they
argue that fatness is part of human experience and should be explored without the
overriding judgement that it should be eliminated. An activist view would be that fat
bodies have social value.
Therefore, Fat Studies is different to dominant obesity discourse in that it is critical; it
seeks to expand the understanding of fatness beyond the narrow confines of
medicalisation or pathology; it often incorporates a social model which shifts the
focus of interrogation away from the fat body itself and more towards positioning and
contingent systems and structures; and it provides a platform for identifying, building
and developing fat culture as well as extending alliances between activism and the

I have personal, political, professional and scholarly involvements with fat. As such,
its boundaries and intersections are informed by my two decades of fat activism
within a social movement that is called size acceptance, fat acceptance, fat
liberation, fat politics, and by other names; it is also influenced by my personal
history as a fat queer and through my budding identity as a scholar. As an activist,
for example, I see that critical explorations of fatness as a social position and
embodied identity have at least a 40-year history (Cooper 2009) but it is only within
recent years that academics have taken a similarly probing view of dominant obesity
discourse. Events such as the annual Popular Culture Association conference series
in the US, which hosts a Fat Studies strand, or one-day seminars such as Fat
Studies UK, which took place in York in 2008, have begun to shape the field and are
supporting an accompanying literature (Tomrley and Kaloski Naylor 2009, Solovay
and Rothblum 2009). However, as I shall demonstrate here, fat activism and its
related critical literature already provides Fat Studies scholars with a considerable
amount of material for examination, this body of work offers more than just a radical
counterpoint to dominant obesity discourse, it can also be seen as a culture, one that
is beginning to develop its own critical discourse.

There are some limitations to this review. I have omitted material available within the
health sciences in order to focus on published academic work within the social
sciences. For reasons of space I have also ignored a lengthy examination of Health
At Every Size, a developing critical paradigm for understanding fat and health.
Similar reasons underpin my decision to exclude the network of zines, online
message-boards and blogs, where a significant amount of Fat Studies commentary
currently operates, or the numerous populist magazines supportive of fat activism
that have come and gone over the years.

I would like to add some notes on language. I use the term Fat Studies because of
what I regard as its inherent critique of the medicalised concept obesity. As an
activist I am interested in the use and reclamation of the word fat and I see Fat
Studies as an umbrella for many perspectives, including critical theory. Fat Studies
appears in the titles of two forthcoming readers and is the most common name for
the field in the UK, US, Canada and Europe, where a majority of the scholarship is
taking place.

My PhD supervisor Dr Lee Monaghan actively resists the designantion Fat Studies
and refers to his work as Critical Weight Studies (Monaghan 2008). I am aware that
other writers who I would categorise as Fat Studies scholars define their work as
Critical Obesity Studies, although it is unclear if this reflects a critical view of Fat
Studies itself. This suggests a fragmentation or specialisation within the field, which
could point to a schism between lay and professional perspectives, a reluctance to
ally with fatness, a discomfort with the culturally-loaded word fat, a desire to coin
new terms, or national differences. Whilst I note these differences a full discussion of
them is beyond the scope of this paper.

A further note on language: Sobal and Maurer (1999) open their collections with
comments about social constructionism, and Murray (2008) repeatedly annotates fat
and obese with inverted commas to emphasise their constructedness and
contestability. I acknowledge the slippery and contextual nature of these categories,
support the queer strategy of self-definition for working with subjective fat identities,
and will assume that the reader is aware of such essentialist linguistic critiques.

The Global Obesity Epidemic

A critical obesity literature stretches back four decades but significant scholarly
interest in developing this body of work is much more recent and has only begun to
emerge within the last five years. The emergence of an assumed global obesity
epidemic has necessitated such discourse. Where critical research into obesity had
previously been the niche domain of activists and feminists, international government
support of global obesity epidemic rhetoric led to much higher stakes in research,
with considerable funding for anti-obesity projects, which provided an indirect
platform for those who sought to analyse these developments.

The fuzzy origins of what has come to be known as the global obesity epidemic can
be found within a series of documents published in the late 1990s, for example,
Moore et al (1997), Wilding (1997), and Popkin and Doak (1998) which were
crystallised by the World Health Organization (1998) and, in the UK, Butland et al's
Foresight report (2005), as well as in popular books such as Schlosser (2001).
These works, and many others like them, warned of an obesity epidemic, an obesity
timebomb, that would inevitably deplete worldwide health, create a massive financial
burden of care, and affect children in particular.

The treatment and prevention of obesity that operates within the rubric of this
epidemiological literature has come under fierce attack by a number of critics
through three key debates.

Firstly, there is a call for a more measured approach to obesity science and a
refuting of claims made about fat bodies within global obesity epidemiology, for
example in Campos (2005), Gard and Wright (2005), Oliver (2006), Basham, Gori
and Luik (2007), Campos et al (2006). Pieterman (2007) groups the first four books
together in his short literature review of the social construction of fat, and they are
very similar in the ways they examine the available medical literature on fat and
health and debunk obesity science, by showing that it is a product of a social context
in which fat hatred is endemic and profitable. The authors consider how the obesity
epidemic fuels wider political concerns and supports particular ideological
perspectives and policies. Gard and Wright diverge with discussions about the
influence of feminist discourses on slenderness and the body, for example Orbach
(1978), Bartky (1990), and Bordo (1993), which are themselves part of a wider
feminist discourse on beauty, patriarchy and the body, for example Chernin (1983)
and Wolf (1990). Basham et al propose medical treatment for the "severely obese
category" (p.40) as well as a healthy living agenda that veers close to traditional anti-
obesity interventions and this illustrates a contradiction within some of these texts:
whilst the authors are critical of the origins and effects of the global obesity epidemic,
they maintain their investment in the treatment and prevention of obesity.

Secondly, Oliver (2006) points out that the WHO report was drafted by the
International Obesity Task Force, a pressure group consisting of health professionals
who are financially supported and who act in the interests of various commercial
weight loss organisations. This raises issues about the global obesity epidemic and
consumerism. He makes the provocative assertion that the global obesity epidemic
is a government-sanctioned marketing strategy for multinational weight loss
corporations. One of the sub-strategies of this process is the incorporation of anti-fat
moral discourse within anti-obesity health promotion.

Thirdly, there is concern about how global obesity epidemic rhetoric supports a moral
discourse around fatness. Herndon (2005) asserts that the metaphorical war on
obesity proposed by supporters of the obesity epidemic paradigm projects anxieties
about nationhood, race, class and economics onto individuals and is an example of a
moral panic, described succinctly by Saguy and Almeling (2005) as 'fat panic'. Saguy
and Almeling (2008) continue this theme and note how morality became a significant
part of the popular discourse on obesity through the processing of the original
reports by the global news media.

Other authors have developed and situated their work within this critical discourse.
Monaghan (2008) presents his ethnography of male dieters against the presumed
epidemic; similarly, Stearns (2002) and Gilman (2008) write within a historical and
cross-cultural reading of the phenomenon, Swee Kian Tay (2003) locates her critical
reading of obesity in Singapore, and Murray (2007) exposes health professionals'
value-laden critical gaze in interpreting obesity as pathological. Harjunen (2002) and
Evans et al (2008) consider the theoretical groundings of the obesity epidemic and
the effects of its practical application, via policy, on young people. Wright and
Harwood (2008) extend this concern further across different countries under the
theoretical concept of biopedagogy, relating to the increased surveillance, regulation
and self-policing of young people's bodies through socio-medical 'knowledge'.
Azzarito (2008) endorses this view and argues that fatness has become a curriculum
project in American schools.

The academic rigour supporting these studies is a recent development in the field,
yet this approach could also be contested. Gard (2008) has criticised Campos for
substituting 'bad science' with 'good science' without critiquing the use of science,
and much of the discourse relies on an uncritically positivist stance regarding truth
and facts. Moreover, the trend for professional and scholarly remoteness from the
subject matter echoes the distance between the WHO report and Foresight, for
example, and the fat subjects of their research. Although some of the authors above
identify as fat, fat people themselves are abstracted and largely absent from the
discourse which often also fails to engage with the broader historical Fat Studies
literature and activism that I will come to later.

An oppositional literature

The works cited above locate themselves against a dominant obesity discourse
which constructs fat in 21st century Western culture through a biomedical framework
concerning categorisation, illness and pathology. Chang and Christakis (2002) reveal
the subtle changes in fat medicalisation over the 20th century and provide excellent
examples of this discourse. But the critical literature relating to the Global Obesity
Epidemic is only a fraction of the available work that adopts a critical stance against
dominant obesity discourse. There is a much older and broader literature that is
often overlooked by critical fat panic arrivistes.

The earliest works of this kind are located within activism, such as Louderback's
manifesto (1970), and the subsequent research produced and published by The Fat
Underground, now available in the Largesse Fat Liberation Archives
( But the better-known and more
heavily-referenced works of this prior body of literature are those which share some
of the characteristics of critical obesity epidemic research, namely positivism,
science, treatment, rational modernity, and meaning. Bruch (1957) illustrates this
approach well. Her research is very much of its time, it is racist and colonialist, she
regards fatness as evidence of dysfunctional psychology, and calls for its treatment,
yet she is dismissive of contemporary weight loss interventions. Bruch is hardly
supportive of what later came to be known as fat liberation, her position is startlingly
similar to today's anti-obesity proponents, but her critical and questioning tone is

Bruch's legacy can be seen in Ernsberger and Haskew (1987), and later Kolata
(2007), who attempt to unpack obesity science, or Tenzer (1989), Polivy and
Herman (1983) and Oliver-Pyatt (2004), who propose a non-diet approach to fat
health. Alternative obesity treatment models are suggested by Brown and Rothblum
(1990), who discuss the possibilities for anti-oppressive practice, and Irving (2000),
who describes such a size acceptance/eating disorder prevention schools
programme. A more recent synthesis of Bruch's clinical work and size acceptance
can be found in Health At Every Size, a non-diet paradigm for fat and health
supported by health professionals including Bacon (2008), for example, and Gingras
(2009). Bruch's questionable categorisation of fatness as an eating disorder
underpins later feminist theory concerning slenderness and the meaning of fatness
to normative-sized people, such as such as Chernin (1983), Seid (1989) and Mason-
John (1996).

Within rigorous, scholarly, 'objective' accounts of fat, which take a critical and
oppositional view of mainstream obesity discourse, there is a body of work
concerned with stigma and discrimination. This is not surprising given Goffman's
(1963) sociologically influential work in the field, and also, I would argue, the desire
of critical researchers to engage with and promote social justice. Goodman (1995)
considers fat prejudice as part of "a wider caste system" (p.17), compares its
dynamics and features, such as dehumanisation, to anti-semitism, and demonstrates
the systemic nature of discrimination. Myers and Rothblum (2005) address structural
anti-fat attitudes within psychology, and present the relationship between stigma,
discrimination and psychological distress, and Solovay (2000) explores the legal
frameworks and opportunities for fighting discrimination. Within the positivist
traditions, Allison et al (1991) and Lewis et al (1997) attempt to develop
measurement tools for anti-fat attitudes; Hague and White (2005) present systems
for addressing anti-fat attitudes amongst teachers; Crosnoe, Frank and Strassman
(2008) examine the gendered effects of body size in social networks; and Swami et
al (2008) show that high levels of stigma correlate with higher BMI. Brownell et al's
(2005) collection on weight bias highlights the problematic nature of 'impartial'
scholarly detachment in Fat Studies. Some of its authors are affiliated with the Rudd
Center at Yale University which is both critical of weight bias yet supportive of weight
loss and unwilling to adopt HAES, a position seen by some fat activists as
paradoxical (Robison 2007).

Concern for social justice and recognition of the effects of fatphobia and
discrimination lead towards the point where distinctions start to become apparent
between researchers who are somewhat removed from the day-to-day experience of
being fat and those who have a closer relationship to it. Although fat people are the
subjects of the research I have described so far, they are often abstract presences
within it, a nebulous blob of people sometimes known as 'the obese', which echoes
contested approaches to fat people within more traditional medicalised obesity
discourses. Goodman (1995) describes obesity science's reduction of fat
embodiment as "a collection of measurements and body parts" (p.16), which could
be a criticism not only of dominant obesity discourse but also of its critics.

Not surprisingly, an equally abundant literature that takes an oppositional stance to
dominant obesity discourses concerns fat subjectivity and embodiment, that is, how
fatness is experienced, and these works tend to have been produced by those with
first-hand experience of the phenomenon, for example Jenkins and Farnham (1988),
both of whom were involved with the London Fat Women's Group of the late 1980s.
To Braziel and LeBesco (2001), and Shaw (2006), fat identity is transgressive, it
makes a mockery of cultural norms, which is why it is socially reviled. Yet other
accounts reveal a more complicated contingent social construction of how we as fat
people see ourselves. Millman's accounts and photographs (1980), for example,
explore vulnerability and ambivalence, as does Schmidt's (1985) account of
becoming disabled as a result of weight loss surgery, Murray's (2005) struggles in
identifying with fat politics, or the internalised oppression described by Calogero,
Herbozo and Thompson (2009); that is, fat experience as bound up in issues of
survivorhood and ambiguous or negative self-image.

Some social science scholars have incorporated these accounts into their research
through theory, for example Harjunen's exploration of fat as a liminal state (2003);
Colls' study of fat materialisation (2007); fat as an embodiment of working class
rhetoric in LeBesco (2007); or Levy-Navarro's (2008) use of early modern literature
to deconstruct the late-modern concept of obesity. Intersectionality is addressed by
The Fireweed Collective (1999) and Monaghan (2005) with accounts of third wave
feminism and masculinity respectively. A quartet of qualitative studies, Goode and
 (1983) exploration of fat admirers as deviant; Gimlin's (2002) encounters
with NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance); Swami and Tovee's
(2009) research into fat admirers' perception of body size; and Scott-Dixon's (2008)
ethnography of fat women in sport, suggest that fat subjectivity is a phenomenon that
can illuminate the embodiment of people of all sizes.

Another body of literature that spans scholarly and popular work around subjectivity
concerns how behaviours associated with fatness are experienced, namely weight
loss. The accounts of Cannon and Einzig (1985), Ogden (1992) and Evans Young
(1995) are not necessarily critical of dominant obesity discourse, yet their
problematising of diet and the body is relevant to fat subjectivity and therefore to
critical discourse within fat studies. Throsby (2007, 2008) is also concerned with fat
people's experience of weight loss, though she interrogates bariatric surgery; its
conceptualisation as a re-birth, and the personal accounts drawn upon by fat people
which avoid self-blame within the wider obesity-morality discourse. But weight loss is
not the only behaviour associated with fat subjectivity, Colls (2006), for example,
charts the emotional experiences of fat women shopping for clothes.

Fat subjectivity forms the basis of a rich profusion of popular works, which deserve a
literature review of their own. These books include memoirs by celebrities (Manheim
2000, Mo'Nique and McGee 2004, French 2008) and mortals (Bovey 2000, Klein
2008); size acceptance children's books (Jasper 1988, Newman 1991); self-help size
acceptance books (Schroeder 1992, Erdman 1996, Thone 1997, Bernell and Renee
2000, Gaesser 2002, Frater 2005); fashion, crafting and project work as a means of
self-expression and self-care (Soudan and French 1990, Nanfeldt 1996, Deckert
2002) and non-diet health, fitness and wellness guides for fat people (Roberts 1985,
Lewis 1986, Lyons and Burgard 1990, Jonas 1997, Blank 2000, van der Ziel and
Tourville 2002, Shanker 2005, Harding and Kirby 2009).

Popular works about fat subjectivity segue fairly seamlessly into the literature of fat
activism in writings by Schoenfielder and Wieser (1983), Jenkins and Smith (1987),
Lamm (1995), Bovey (1989), Cooper (1998) and Wann (1998) who combine
personal testimony with a critique of oppressive social structures. Empirical studies
consider fat people's relationships to activism (Tischner and Malson 2008); use
activism as a model through which to explore people's attitudes to activism (Sturmer
et al 2003); and have found improved well-being amongst fat women who adopted
fat activism (McKinley 2004).

Finally, within the body of literature that seeks to provide an alternative set of values
to dominant obesity discourses, there are a number of celebratory and appreciative
works around fat, ranging from Klein's (1996) meandering and pretentious love-letter
to fat; photographic collections of fat nudes (Edison and Notkin 1994, Nimoy 2007);
poetry (Nichols 1984, Donald 1986, Stinson 1993, Zellman et al 2009); novels
(Stinson 1994, 1996, 2004; Koppelman 2003); and fiction anthologies (Blank 2001,
Jarrell and Sukrungruang 2003, 2005).

Reframing the problem

Oppositional literature which seeks to explore the very nature of fat subjectivity could
be regarded as being part of a discourse that is trying to reframe the problem of
obesity. Instead of thinking about fatness within a biomedical model, or as
intrinsically tied to an energy balance paradigm where fat is always assumed to be
the result of a dysfunctional bodily relationship between the number of calories
consumed and the number of calories expended, it proposes that there are multiple
ways of looking at the issue or, indeed, that there are multiple issues.

This discourse includes works such as Neumark-Sztainer (1997), whose
philosophical reflections on obesity are medicalised, yet make a case for using a
variety of perspectives in conceptualising fatness. Dalton (1998), a dietician, calls for
a similar multidisciplinary approach to weight management that considers size
acceptance a valid intervention. Both authors persist in locating 'the problem' within
fat embodiment, and therefore assume that 'the solution' lies in treating and
preventing fat bodies. But Cooper (1997) and Herndon (2002) suggest a different
approach by introducing theoretical possibilities for reframing the discourse away
from the body by considering the ways that structural power is enacted upon fat
people, and invoking the Social Model of Disability as a potential theoretical basis for
reconsidering fat activism and fat subjectivity. Sobal and Maurer's (1999a,b)
complimentary volumes also propose activism as a possible means of reframing
meanings associated with obesity, which LeBesco (2004) consolidates in her study,
and Johnston and Taylor (2008) develop in their research. The latter two works
demonstrate the limitations of traditional obesity discourse, and the expansive
possibilities that activism offers in challenging abjected fat identity and promoting a
profound paradigm shift. Kirkland (2008) considers a central feature of this paradigm
shift, that of the demand for rights by fat activists, and the promotion of a discourse
that considers legal frameworks, discrimination, and the potential for redress and
social justice.

It would be a mistake to think that reframing fatness would be a process devoid of
tension. Saguy and Riley (2005) and Kwan (2009) present it as being hostile and
politically motivated, a contest for supremacy between government, activists and
industry. This power struggle is not surprising given the commercial interests
involved in maintaining the status quo. But there is tension within organisations too,
Martin's (2002) study explores how Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous and
NAAFA attempt to construct alignment and loyalty with organisational values, and
frames of meanings within their membership, and the ways that users comply with
and resist those processes.

One of the stresses that comes from reframing fatness involves a jostling for primacy
between the various players within the newly expanded field, and perhaps an
avoidance of moral relativism. Dominant obesity discourse is comparatively
monolithic compared to this new landscape, which now demands answers to the
question of where one allies oneself. Though traditional obesity discourses are
undoubtedly problematic, alternative accounts are also attracting criticism and even

A handful of writers are deeply uncomfortable with the notion of fat liberation, or even
fat acceptance. Fumento (1997) is critical of traditional obesity science, yet he is
similarly disdainful of fat liberation and supplies a number of weight loss strategies in
his book. Critser (2003) critiques the American food industry and is supportive of
self-acceptance, yet he stresses that self-accepting fat people are deluded and
weight loss is the key to good health. Grossman (2003) articulates a popular view by
asserting that fat activism is insupportable because it undermines the possibility of
individuals, and society in general, being able to overcome their obesity, although
this position neglects the possible personal and social benefits that such activism
can bring, improved self-esteem or community-building, for example, or the health
benefits of giving up dieting.

Clearly these writers share a perspective that problematises fatness in the first place,
unlike Bovey (1994, 2002), Murray (2005) and Glen (2008), who write from positions
within the size acceptance movement. Whilst Bovey names a handful of fat women
she admires for their fat embodiment, she is also alienated by and critical of a fat
liberation movement that she feels is dictatorial, and advocates for other women who
feel similarly. Personally unable to accept her own fatness, and sceptical of other fat
women's ability to feel self-accepting of their bodies, Bovey changed the title of her
book to reflect this position, lost weight in secret at a diet club and published a
feminist weight loss book. Murray is equally critical of what she feels is an inherent
narrative within fat liberation, that one comes out as fat and that there is no
ambiguity or discomfort in the way that one might experience one's fatness. This
contradicts her subjective reality that includes episodes of pride, disgust and shame.
In a later work (2008) she critiques individualistic ideology within some parts of the
fat acceptance movement and argues that people cannot choose their own realities,
that everybody is implicated within social systems and that these impact upon the
ways one experiences fat embodiment. Mack (2007) endorses this view in a critique
of the coming out discourse that is popular within fat liberation. Glen is also
dismissive of the fat liberation movement, which she argues is hostile to those who
suffer eating disorders.

Probyn's (2008) criticisms of the size acceptance movement, which have been
widely accepted within some areas of the academy, are reserved for what she
considers its theoretical underpinnings. She is aghast by what she considers limited
readings of Foucault, although she does not reference Evans et al (2008) or Wright
and Harwood (2008), who both provide in-depth Foucauldian analysis of fatness.
Probyn attacks poor media literacy within fat liberation, but fails to address such
phenomena as fat zine-making, or the Fatosphere (a network of fat bloggers), or the
complex ways in which fat activists have been using and creating media for the past
40 years. By stating that feminists are not engaging with fatness, Probyn echoes
Wooley and Wooley's (1979) influential argument that fat is a neglected feminist
topic, and Smith's (1989) call to radical feminists to create a politics of appearance.
But Probyn's own analysis is extremely limited, she seems unaware of the body of
work I have outlined in this paper and has based her arguments on Orbach's (1978)
highly contested understanding of fatness (Cooper 1998, Murray 2008, Tomrley
2009). Her critique is located within discourses around food poverty, energy balance,
and she blames capitalism, agribusiness and "cheap and bad products" (p.402) for
the preponderance of obesity. Not only does she reinforce the feminist academy's
historical inability to develop a strong and rigorous understanding of fat, she merely
reiterates the claims made by obesity epidemic proponents using energy balance
paradigms such as Foresight (Butland et al 2005).

New complexities

Although flawed, Probyn's account demonstrates the complexity of viewpoints and
critiques that are likely to surface as new literature emerges and Fat Studies
matures; her discussion cannot be reduced to positions of pro- or anti-. Walkerdine
(2008) cites Gard (2008) as a further example of this complexity, stating that his
work has been adopted by the libertarian right as well as leftist activists but is
ignored within mainstream obesity discourses. She proposes that Arendt's (1999)
web of relations as a more fruitful model for illuminating the intricacies of the
discourses and goes on to say:

       […] traditional modes of opposition and critique, often directed at a
       government, for example, simply do not even vaguely match the
       complexity of the current political situation. […] there is no longer a
       simple politics of opposition, but complex oppositional politics with
       intersecting claims, demands and interests. (Walkerdine 2008, p.199)

This complexity is apparent within a handful of forthcoming books (Tomrley and
Kalosky 2009, Solovay and Rothblum 2009, Monaghan, Aphramor and Rich 2009)
which are more explicitly situated within Fat Studies than the earlier works
mentioned in this review. Rothblum and Solovay divide their weighty Fat Studies
Reader into subsections that address intersectionality, international perspectives,
literature, history, popular culture, legal theory and civil rights, economics and
political theory, education, science and public health, and fat activism. The Pop
Culture Association's annual conference, which includes a strand that has been
instrumental in developing Fat Studies, brings further additions: panels on
Encountering and Coping with Anti-Fat Bias, fat embodiment and an examination of
visual representations of fatness. These works guard against moral relativism by
acknowledging the body of critical literature, maintaining their own critical
perspective, and upholding a commitment to wider social justice issues.

Obviously, as an emerging location for scholarly investigation, there are substantial
gaps in the literature, for example: although intersectionality is an interest, there are
few critical cross-cultural studies; a lack of empirical studies for HAES; little
scholarship that reflects abundance of popular literature, and vice versa; virtually no
theoretical or historical explanations for fat activism; and a distressing polarisation
between those who wish to preserve dominant obesity discourses and those who
wish to dismantle them.

This literature review has shown that the works within Fat Studies cannot be written
off as a recent phenomenon on a single-issue. Although the Fat Studies literature is
dominated by such works, it is more than merely a critique of current obesity
epidemic politicking, as contributions by cultural historians and anthropologists
Schwarz (1986) and Kulick and Meneley (2005) demonstrate. I have also argued
that although the body of work has roots within an oppositional literature, and that its
critical nature is important, it is moving beyond that remit, as it must, to address new
complexities, for example in Longhurst (2005) attempts to develop research agendas
within geography that consider fatness; Guthman and DuPuis (2006), who critique
obesity epidemic rhetoric from an energy balance model of fat, itself highly contested
within Fat Studies; Ross and Moorti's (2005) collection of Feminist Media Studies
articles on fat; or Giusti's (2009) anthology that addresses fatness and queer theory.

Given the commercial and governmental pressures to treat and prevent obesity
within the alleged global obesity epidemic, it is likely that Fat Studies may become
co-opted by supporters of dominant obesity discourse, but I hope that Fat Studies
can morph into a canon that considers the value of fat diversity, fat culture, that can
address new complexities, and create possibilities for recognising fat as a
perspective, a new kind of interdisciplinary lens.

Thanks to Dr Lee Monaghan at the University of Limerick for his support of this

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