Should "Fat Studies" Be Taught In School?

Illustration for article titled Should "Fat Studies" Be Taught In School?

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]

Image via Nattika/



When I clicked to read the full story, I was all "Oh, they probably mean Health Studies and isn't that taught at even a high school level anyway?" But... no... it's a course about the cultural meanings we place on fat in different parts of the globe. I want to be in support of this because it's interesting and deserves thinking about, but I've been to a few college tutorial groups in my time and unless the tutor keeps things on track any actual, you know, students who identify as fat could find this a really silencing and shaming experience, and the whole thing could devolve into 75 minutes of bitching about this one time someone took up two seats on the bus so the student had to stand.

I'm not sure this one subject could take up an entire subject course, though. Aren't there, like, philosophy or social studies courses about beauty? Wouldn't "fat studies" fall under that umbrella, as part of thinking about what different cultures regard as beautiful and why, is thinking about what different culture regard as ugly and why?

And, yeah. If it's not just about aesthetics and cultural meaning, it's health studies. And shouldn't be called fat studies.