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Fat Studies and Health at Every Size

Seminar Series Context: Summary

There is significant concern about the impact of fatness on the UK's health, and numerous policy interventions have attempted to tackle the so-called 'obesity epidemic'. This policy relies on universal facts to encourage individuals to maintain the 'correct' body. This has meant the reduction of complex scientific knowledge about health and body size/weight to simple messages: thin is good, fat is bad and losing weight will make you healthier. However, there is little definitive evidence that proves that fatness unequivocally causes ill-health or that dieting will improve health. What is more certain is that being defined as (or considering oneself to be) fat/overweight/obese may have an immediate detrimental effect on self-esteem and mental well-being. Policy response to this has been limited by its focus on individual responsibility, meaning there has been a tendency to blame people for their own low self-esteem and suggest that the solution is to lose weight.

Fat Studies and Health at Every Size (HAES) researchers, activists and practitioners have therefore asked serious ethical questions about the dominant medical and political approach to fatness in the UK. This has involved questioning: the influence of social, cultural and moral ideologies about fatness on anti-obesity policy; the ways in which obesity policy may reinforce such ideologies; and the implications of this for weight-based discrimination and individual's body image and self-esteem. HAES practitioners have therefore developed alternative, body-positive health interventions which aim to improve people's health and well-being regardless of their body size and without expecting weight loss.

Given the power and pervasiveness of medical models of health and weight, it is often difficult for Fat Studies and HAES activists, researchers and practitioners to find the space to develop alternatives. These approaches have historically developed from different disciplinary backgrounds (Fat Studies associated with Women's Studies, and HAES within the health sciences). Both also have a shorter history in the UK than elsewhere (e.g. the USA). This seminar series therefore aims to provide a space for Fat Studies and HAES academics, practitioners and activists in the UK to come together to debate and discuss the future direction of research and practice at the intersection between these two areas of work.
For more detailed information on the context for this seminar series, see below.

The seminar series aims to:

  • Critically question the political, social, cultural and economic structures within which dominant approaches to fatness are embedded and to explore the multiple experiences of fatness according to social identities (race, gender, class, age, sexuality, etc.);
  • Explore multiple theoretical approaches to fatness beyond restrictive medical models of 'obesity' and 'overweight' (and the associated concepts of metabolic risk and nutritional well-being beyond restrictive models of energy balance);
  • Discuss the ethical and practical issues associated with different methodologies used in Fat Studies and Health at Every Size research;
  • Facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and networking between activists, practitioners and academics seeking to further non size-discriminatory approaches to health, particularly amongst postgraduates and early career researchers in the UK and link to international Fat Studies and HAES networks;
  • Disseminate the outcomes of the seminar series in both academic and popular arenas to counter the dominance of medical models of fatness in the UK.