More universities are offering Fat Studies classes that teach students about the implications of weight in society. But do the courses do any good?
Eve Binder of The Daily Beast writes,
Fat Studies scholars say their mission is to promote weight awareness and acceptance among populations of all types. The sociological study of obesity has been creeping into academia for over a decade, often as a subtopic of Women's Studies or Health Sciences. But only recently has weight become a subject of study in its own right.
Many Fat Studies classes use the Fat Studies Reader, whose contributors pose questions like, "How is weight perceived in different countries? What do media depictions of larger sizes say about our social priorities? What if there were a "fat gene," and what if we could test for it prenatally?" Some are skeptical about the value of such questions, however — writes Binder, "despite such courses' popularity among students, critics worry that such classes emphasize bleeding-heart politics over intellectual rigor."
To be honest, this particular debate isn't all that interesting to me. I heard it play out all the time in college — as I suspect many people who went to four-year institutions did — and it's always seemed to me that whether something is intellectually rigorous has way more to do with the way it's taught than with the subject matter at hand. You can teach the traditional Western canon in a totally lazy and haphazard — and, yes, biased — way, or you can do an interesting and critical and thought-provoking job. The same is true for newer disciplines like Fat Studies.
Much more worthy of discussion, to my mind, is this issue:
Recent studies have shown that body-consciousness can not only hurt academic performance in high school, but can also deter fat students from applying to college, and from receiving adequate help and attention from teachers and college advisors. The exact amount of attrition is impossible to pinpoint, but members of fat academia have noticed the scarcity of plus-size silhouettes on campus-particularly in exclusive private schools, where Fat Studies is most likely to be funded and taught.
Short version: Fat Studies classes tend to have a dearth of actual fat people. And while it's obviously worthwhile for non-fat people to learn about size politics, it would be nice if fat people had access to this information too — and if they were actually present in the classrooms where their experiences are (ostensibly) being discussed. This wouldn't just make these classes more just and diverse (scare words for those who think a name like "Fat Studies" is incompatible with rigor) — it would also make the courses smarter.
"Fat Studies" Goes To College [Daily Beast]
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