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Fat Studies and Health at Every Size

Seminar 3: Experiencing and Celebrating Fatness

18th - 19th November, 2010. London

Short Report on Seminar 3: Experiencing and Celebrating Fatness

Introduction

The third of the four seminars for this series took place on 18th-19th November, 2010 at Stratford Library, London. The seminar was focussed on individuals' experiences of activism, sites for intervention, and the possibilities for fat activism in relation to health.

Activities

In keeping with the aims of the seminar series as a whole, the seminar aimed to provide a supportive space for people from varied backgrounds to share their experiences of fatness and to explore different forms of fat activism. The space of the seminar was therefore important and the decision to hold the seminar in a non-academic, public library was a deliberate attempt to ensure that the event was accessible, open and welcoming to community members and activists. The ethos of the seminar was clearly outlined at the beginning by Charlotte Cooper and the space created was one which was size-positive, non-judgemental and supportive of all forms of embodiment. For this reason, the organisers decided not to invite media coverage of the seminar to avoid any potential misrepresentation of the content of the seminar and the potential to bring judgement into an intentionally non-judgemental space.

The activities held at the seminar included a poster display (of Unskinny Bop artwork), a mini-Big Bum Jumble, a Fat Studies book stall, a discussion of a fat/queer/trans timeline, opportunities to play on the Chubuzzer, a film screening, formal and informal presentations and plenty of opportunity for informal discussion over refreshments.

Ten people gave presentations at the seminar, speaking about their own experiences of fatness and fat activism from different perspectives as academics, practitioners, activists, and as fat bodies. The papers were all engaging and moving in different ways (angry, celebratory, sad, hopeful) and were given by people from a range of different geographical locations (the UK, Finland, Sweden, USA and Australia), providing an opportunity to explore connections and differences between different forms of fat experience and fat activism globally.

A stunning key note address was given by Sondra Solovay who spoke about four different legal cases in the USA which revealed the multiple ways in which fat bodies are denied rights. These cases also raised important questions about the potential intersections between fat and disability and queer rights activism in challenging problematic legal precedents and the intersections between fat, queer, trans and disability activism was a recurring theme throughout the seminar.

Presentations

Details of the presentations are shown below. Where possible, we will upload audio recordings and/or video (to show powerpoint slides) of the talks (these will be available soon). Unfortunately it is not possible to reproduce Sondra’s keynote address due to the sensitivity of the legal cases discussed.

Key Note: Sondra Solovay (San Francisco Law School, attorney and fat activist) 'Fat Panic and the Real Epidemic' ‘Never mind the ethics, feel the resistance: the challenges of HAES in the UK'

Brief introduction to the seminar: Charlotte Cooper

[ Audio Recording (.wma) ]

  • Hannele Harjunen (University of Jyväskylä) 'Travelling concepts: when fat studies came to Finland'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Caroline Walters (University of Exeter) ''Padded kink': a critique of visual representations of fat BDSM'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Kim Singleton (University of Liverpool) 'Gluttons for punishment: the perverse practices of social inclusion'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Kay Hyatt (Big Bum Jumble, London) 'DIY Fat Activism and The Big Bum Jumble'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Samantha Murray (Macquarie University) 'This Fat Girl's Getting Back in the Water: (Re)Thinking dialogue between fat scholarship and activism'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Rachel White (University of Westminster) 'No Fat Future? The uses of anti-social queer theory for fat activism'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Mike Wyeld (Bears Against Bigotry) 'Bears Against Bigotry Pecha Kucha'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Stacy Bias (Fat & Body Image Activist & Campus Speaker, Portland) 'Event based activism: creating community through art and adventure'
    [ Narrated Slides ]
  • Film: 'Thank You From Heaven,' introduced by Christina Fleetwood, National Association of Overweight Persons in Sweden.
    We cannot reproduce the film here, but some clips are available on youtube: clip 1; clip 2 , or view the project homepage at: http://www.projektversus.nu/.
  • Discussion of A Fat Queer and Trans Timeline. Introduced by Charlotte Cooper (University of Limerick)
    [ Audio Recording (.wma) ]

Participation and Feedback

Approx. 50 people attended the seminar including international academics and activists and local community members interested in issues of fat, queer and trans embodiment. Feedback (both formal and informal) was overwhelmingly positive, with delegates praising the openness and supportive atmosphere which meant that people felt able to get involved in discussions and ask questions without feeling intimidated. As with previous seminars, 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.

Reflection and Conclusion

This seminar again offered a different context to the previous two seminars and the range of voices and experiences across the seminar series is beginning to demonstrate the breadth of Fat Studies and HAES practice, activism and scholarship. Fewer tensions were evident in this seminar than the second one, but what was clear from the discussions were the multiple different contexts in which fat activism takes place (both different international contexts and the ways in which activism can be part of everyday life). A recurring theme across the two days was the potential intersections between fat activism and queer, trans and disability activism. It became evident that opportunities for joint action and/or fat studies scholarship to learn from queer and crip theory are often missed and there is a clear need for further discussion here to tease out the potentially productive collaborations but also to ensure awareness of any potential pitfalls or exclusions in seeking such collaboration. In short, both in terms of intersecting radical politics and international comparisons, the necessity to consider fat activisms in the plural was clear.

Other reflections on this seminar

See blog posts on this seminar by Charlotte Cooper (http://obesitytimebomb.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html) and Stacy Bias (http://stacybias.net/2010/11/esrc-fat-studies-conference-building-community-through-activism/)