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Fat Studies and Health at Every Size

Seminar 1: Abject embodiment: Uneven targets of fat discrimination

Short Report on Seminar 1: Abject Embodiment


The first of the four seminars for this series took place on 14th - 15th January, 2010 at Durham University. The seminar was focussed on the theme ‘Abject Embodiment: Uneven Targets of Fat Discrimination’ and aimed to:

  • critically question the political, social, cultural and economic structures within which dominant approaches to fatness are embedded
  • explore how representations and experiences of fatness vary according to multiple social identities (race, gender, class, age, sexuality, occupation etc.)


The event was structured around two paper sessions with a total of 7 excellent papers (see below for details). Each of these papers questioned different elements of discrimination surrounding fatness and raised important questions for subsequent discussion.

An outstanding and inspirational keynote address was given by Charlotte Cooper who combined the personal, political and academic to reflect on the development of Fat Studies and HAES in the UK, detail her ongoing involvement in these movements, draw out links to other social movements and political struggles, and suggest possible and hopeful ways to move beyond embattled positions to productive dialogue.

Audio files are available for all talks. Where possible we will also convert these to video (to show powerpoint slides) and/or provide text versions. These links will be updated as/when more become available.

Key Note: Charlotte Cooper, ‘Rad Fatties and 'The Obese': Activism, Fat Studies and Paradigm Shifts in the UK’

[ Narrated Slides | Powerpoint Presentation (.ppt) ]

Introduction: Bethan Evans and Rachel Colls

[ Narrated Slides ]

Session One: Representing/discussing fat bodies

Session Two: Young people, inequalities and size


Approximately 45 people attended the seminar, representing a range of academic disciplines, activists, health practitioners and interested individuals. One of the core aims of the seminar series is to provide a supportive space for those interested in Fat Studies and HAES to explore some of the tensions and key issues surrounding these approaches. It was therefore of vital importance that all participants - whatever their background - felt able to participate in discussion and debate.

In order to facilitate this, each paper presentation and the keynote was followed by time for discussion and on the second day, a longer session was dedicated to small discussion groups followed by a round table summary. These discussions were loosely centred on a set of readings distributed in advance (see below), although it was made clear these were used as a springboard rather than a strict focal point and so those who hadn’t been able to read these in advance were equally able to contribute to discussion based on their own personal/professional experiences.


Cooper, C. (2009) 'Fat Activism in Ten Astonishing, Beguiling, Inspiring and Beautiful Episodes' in Tomrley, C. and Kaloski Naylor, A. eds, Fat Studies In The UK, York: Raw Nerve Books.

Kirkland, A. (2008) 'Think of the Hippopotamus: Rights Consciousness in the Fat Acceptance Movement', Law & Society Review, 42:2, 397-431.


Feedback (both formal and informal) was positive. People particularly commented on the hopeful, welcoming and supportive atmosphere, the quality of the presentations and the smooth organisation. Moreover, the accessibility of the event was also praised in terms of physical space, bursaries, lack of registration fee, and inclusion of non-academic delegates. The financial support from the ESRC was vital here in enabling the event to be free of charge for attendees and the provision of bursaries ensured participation was possible for those not able to get support from their employers.


Overall, it is difficult to summarise the excitement and energy surrounding the first seminar (and the series as a whole). There was a tangible sense that this was an important event in the development of Fat Studies and HAES in the UK. The ESRC funding was important here, providing vital financial support and also recognition of the validity of the work being done. The discussions provided many opportunities to raise key questions and challenges in relation to Fat Studies and HAES research which will be followed through in subsequent seminars.

Also see Charlotte Cooper’s reflection on the seminar on her blog: