Tag Archives: fat

New Book Alert: The Fat Studies Reader

I just got an email announcement about Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay’s latest edited volume titled, The Fat Studies Reader (NYU Press) this morning. I haven’t read the book but reading the description and the Table of Contents, I thought it might be of great interest to many Threadbared readers. Oh, and there’s an oh-so-brief mention of one of our favorite fashion bloggers, Lesley Kinzel of Fatshionista – as well as a quote! (You  may just have to forgive the unfortunately uncompelling multiculturalist cover, though.)

Check out the description and the short Introduction chapter below.

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Winner of the 2010 Susan Koppelman Award for the Best Edited Volume in Women’s Studies from the Popular Culture Association

We have all seen the segments on television news shows: A fat person walking on the sidewalk, her face out of frame so she can’t be identified, as some disconcerting findings about the “obesity epidemic” stalking the nation are read by a disembodied voice. And we have seen the movies—their obvious lack of large leading actors silently speaking volumes. From the government, health industry, diet industry, news media, and popular culture we hear that we should all be focused on our weight. But is this national obsession with weight and thinness good for us? Or is it just another form of prejudice—one with especially dire consequences for many already disenfranchised groups?

For decades a growing cadre of scholars has been examining the role of body weight in society, critiquing the underlying assumptions, prejudices, and effects of how people perceive and relate to fatness. This burgeoning movement, known as fat studies, includes scholars from every field, as well as activists, artists, and intellectuals. The Fat Studies Reader is a milestone achievement, bringing together fifty-three diverse voices to explore a wide range of topics related to body weight. From the historical construction of fatness to public health policy, from job discrimination to social class disparities, from chick-lit to airline seats, this collection covers it all.

Edited by two leaders in the field, The Fat Studies Reader is an invaluable resource that provides a historical overview of fat studies, an in-depth examination of the movement’s fundamental concerns, and an up-to-date look at its innovative research.

Fat Studies Reader_Introduction Chapter

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LINKAGE: “‘Not Our Demographic’: American Apparel Denies My Existence”

This Gawker-made collage features images of long-haired and half-clad models from American Apparel advertisements.

I am in my early 20’s. I will wear stupid pants. So will just about everyone else who is my age. Stupid pants are an important part of human development. By not catering to the enormous market of plus-sized/fat/whatever young people, American Apparel, the INDUSTRY LEADER in stupid pants (not to mention stupid shirts, stupid shorts and stupid nipple-baring leotard things) is missing out on a lot of money.

What irks me more than their hard-headed stupidity, however, is this insistence that fat people are not “part of their demographic.” What does that even mean? That fat people can’t be hipsters? Trust me, fat people are just as capable of being vapid, superficial and pretentious as any thin person. We can forgo bathing, smoke lots of cigarettes and dress like hobos. I’m verging on morbidly obese (according to the oh-so-legit BMI scale), and I had an ironic “hobos and Mormons”-themed 18th birthday party. Two percent of my ample MacBook Pro harddrive space is taken up by the entire discography and an extensive bootleg collection of Manchester indie gods the Fall. I complain on a regular basis about the negative turn country music took in the 1980’s. I dressed up as Jean-Luc Godard for French class when I was 15 years old. Pretentious and superficial? I’ve been there and back again.

This amazingly awe-inspiring excerpt is from “‘Not Our Demographic’: American Apparel Denies My Existence,” by Lillian Behrendt, who blogs at My Unacceptable Body: A Fat Acceptance Blog. (Hat tip to The Rejectionist.) For the recent Gawker investigations into American Apparel’s hiring practices and standards for employment (including lists of banned garments and shoes), see here for internal e-mails and contracts discussing these. We’d like to add, as Renata Espinosa points out, that many retailers have some version of a dress code (and even a corporeal one) for their employees, and that this is a broader problem of sartorial profiling.

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LINKAGE: Sartorial Politics, Political Follies

(Photo: Getty Images, 16 August 2009)

The sartorial discourse around the Obamas continues to illuminate the treacherous claims shaping and disciplining “American” civic bodies. Over at the National Review, former US assistant attorney general Andy McCarthy disingenuously wonders, “I’ve noticed that President Obama frequently forgoes the necktie — lately, even in public appearances. That reminded me — I have no idea why — that the Iranian regime has shunned the necktie ever since Khomeini pronounced it a symbol of Western decadence.” McCarthy’s gee-golly “I have no idea why,” prefacing the interpretative gap that follows hard on its heels, insidiously feigns an intuitive corollary between Obama’s occasional tielessness with Khomeini’s condemnation of this infernal men’s accessory. This bundle of logical fallacies is all too familiar in contemporary conservative political language, as further evidenced by the outrageous effort to paint Obama as Hitler’s monstrous reincarnation. In parody, a Gawker commentator snarked, “I’ve noticed that President Obama has two legs. That reminded me – I have no idea why – that Voldemort also acquired two legs when he became re-born in the cemetery through evil Satan-magic while murdering people.”

Then there is the handwringing over Michelle Obama’s decision to wear a pair of perfectly boring shorts and, significantly, bare her legs, which made the news rounds as a potentially shocking deviation from propriety (MSNBC.com insists, “First Lady’s fashions pushing the envelope?”). Propriety is, of course, a disciplinary discourse that necessarily indexes a slew of racial fantasies and sexual anxieties about representative –i.e., quintessentially “American”– bodies. We’ve witnessed this anxious convergence before in the controversy about Michelle Obama’s bared arms (although copious photographic evidence of the blue-blooded Jacqueline Kennedy in sleeveless sheathes demonstrates that bared arms are nothing new for a First Lady). Not all sartorial sniffing at Michelle Obama’s wardrobe is necessarily racist, of course. But such small controversies as bared arms or legs do transpire in a nation long-troubled by racial regimes that, in closely scrutinizing feminine black bodies, ascribed to them at worst an uncontrollable carnality, and at best an under-civilized corporeality. Thankfully, Michelle Obama’s bared arms, a.k.a. Thunder and Lightening, a.k.a. the First Guns, have their own blog in which together they ponder the media obsession with themselves. And over at the Kitchen Table, black feminist academics Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Yolanda Pierce also question the not-so-hidden undercurrent of racial fantasy and sexual anxiety that drove the initial discussion about the First Lady’s fitness.

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Meanwhile, Robin Givhan considers the sartorial sensibilities of the townhall shouters as they wage war against health care and the civic obligation to care for the poor or the ailing –surely a socialist Trojan Horse!– and against Barack Obama, the black Muslim foreign communist Nazi infiltrator they fear will bring an resolute end to the white America they know and love so well. (That these two goals are brought together as one and the same is made explicit in many of the posters and protests.) For Givhan, this sartorial spectacle is about authority — the challenge to it by those in the costume of the “Average Guy –or Gal” (“a lot of them look as though they could be attending a sporting event”), and the reiteration of it by those politicians at the receiving end of their vitriol, be-suitted in “full Washington regalia.” Or, as Givhan argues:

The underlying focus of this grudge match is, of course, about power — as concentrated in Congress, the presidency, the special interests, the wealthy. The rage emerges from a feeling of helplessness that some version of reform is going to occur whether these citizens like it or not.

While surely this sartorial dynamic of a “grassroots” movement called forth to challenge unfair government matches the portrait the protesters hope to convey, I’m not convinced that this spectacle as such can be understood apart from its volatile racial dynamics. On the one hand, it seems the “Average Guy –or Gal” as a proxy civic body necessarily implicates what George Lipsitz might call a possessive investment in whiteness, especially in his or her sartorial choices that conjure, as they do for Givhan, the “real America.” On the other hand, the somber-suited politician as another sort of proxy civic body is undermined in his whiteness by proximity to the black Muslim foreign communist Nazi infiltrator. In this racial logic, the suit bespeaks the politician’s demoted status as middle management, an Obama lackey. As such, the politician is duly stripped of his authority to represent the interests of “real America” which, in the racist imaginary, most certainly would not include the black and brown disadvantaged. As Tavia Nyong’o observes, “The spectre of ‘death panels’ is, in a way, as old as post-Civil War hysteria about freed slaves gaining political supremacy and riding roughshod over the master race.” Thus, when Givhan ends her piece, we should be clear about just who the hated “boss” is, and why.

Washington’s power brokers have suited up to underscore their authority and the seriousness of the subject matter. And bully for them. But their attire also says: I am the boss of you. All those howling citizens — in their T-shirts and ball caps and baggy shorts — are saying: No, you’re not.

(Thanks to Fashion for Writers’s Meggy Wang for bringing this article to my attention!)

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In a couple of much briefer notes, Shabana Mir tackles the latest in sartorial Islamophobia — the “burqini ban” controversy. “A swimming pool in the Paris suburb of Emerainville has refused entry to a young Muslim woman wearing a burqini,” and as Mir points out, this most recent ban is about a higher order of hygiene: “But the burqini is dangerous. It is a germ. It might spread. It is a visual sign of the disease – Islam – that right-wingers wish to eliminate from the body politic. It is not an accepted form of minority religion that keeps its head down and tries to look nonchalant. It is a little too loud-mouthed in its visual message. How, then, may it be tolerated in public spaces?”

Also, Fatshionista and Queer Fat Femme take on PETA’s latest wrongheaded campaign in a long history of idiot advocacy. “Turning rage into productivity”, Queer Fat Femme posted a reader’s Photoshop transformation of the original billboard (which originally read: “SAVE THE WHALES. Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian.”):

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LINKAGE: Burqas, Gay Taxes, Fatshion, and More

In a guest column at Muslimah Media Watch, Alison McCarthy examines former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown’s recent claims that Obama sequesters Secretary of State Hilary Clinton under an imaginary burqa.

Also from Muslimah Media Watch, Reuters found just 367 women in France in full veil; Farah at Nuseiba examines the mini-explosion of Australian op-eds on the burqa (using Roland Barthes’ Mythologies!); and Global Voices rounds up more opinions from the Interwebs about the notion of a ban.

8Asians lets us know about a short documentary video called Beautiful Sisters, written and directed by Connie Chung for an undergraduate filmmaking course, on the infamous eyelid surgeries that some consider “whitewashing” or “self-hatred” when Asian women (or men) undergo these procedures. (On this issue, I enjoy teach Katherine Zane’s nuanced discussion from the wonderful collection Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, edited by Ella Shohat.)

Marc Jacobs jumps into the same-sex marriage fray with two limited-edition political t-shirts, both proclaiming, “I pay my taxes, I want my rights.” Between the floating dollar sign and American flag in one design, and stylish lesbian couple with equally stylish child in the other, there is too much “civic duty = taxes = access to rights” to untangle here.

Citing the work of Lila Abu-Lughod, a critique of Sarkozy’s proposed burqa ban dubs it “what-not-to-wear imperialism.”

Having recently discovered Fashion Projects (both a print journal and a blog), I was particularly impressed by this essay about George Amponsah and Cosima Spender’s documentary, The Importance of Being Elegant, which examines the Congolese subculture centered around the worship of clothes (kitende) known as la Société des ambianceurs et personnes élégantes (the Society of Revelers and Elegant People), or in short, la Sape. The documentary can be see on Vimeo.

The Los Angeles Times visits the Paris’ Musée de la Contrefaçon (Museum of Counterfeiting), “a fascinating five-room short course in the history of knock-offs, counterfeits and blatant infringements.”

Lesley at Fatshionista responds to the responses to Beth Ditto’s designer collaboration with British “plus-size” department store Evans.

Finally, reading through the abstracts for the recent academic conference FASHIONS: Business Practices in Historical Perspective turns out to be quite fascinating. There are lots of intriguing paper titles (Albert Churella, “The Clothes Make the Women: Skirts, Pants, and Railway Labor during World War II;” J. Malia McAndrew, “Feminized Diplomacy: Japanese Fashion Magazines and U.S. Censorship in Occupied Japan;” Shakila Yocob, “Branding Beauty: Indigenous Knowledge to the Forefront”) but especially timely is Efrat Tseeon’s “In Search of the ‘Ethics’ of Ethical Fashion,” which points out some significant blindspots in the rhetoric and practice.

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LINKAGE: Death Fat, Beth Ditto, and All Manner of Hijab

Fatshionista’s Lesley expands upon her concept of death fat, her wry take on the “But what about your health?” hand-wringing that accompanies condemnations of fat (see the comments at any Fashionista post about Beth Ditto): “Ultimately, I employ death fat as a means of gently poking fun at strangers who would get all wrought up over their manufactured concerns about my health. If I had my choice, I’d much rather folks just pretend I don’t need them to instruct me on how unhealthy they think I must be.”

And speaking of Beth Ditto, recent publicity about her collaboration with British department store Evan’s –including a doll!– has spawned some deep thoughts, including some worries about the potentially predatory circulation of her image-body as “fashion’s magical fatty:” “My point is that the fashion world and its related media are trying to appropriate Beth but they don’t really know what to do with her. They’re trying to fit her into stale formats (crappy plus-size fashion) and, as Carrie Brownstein points out, they cannot get over their own projections of fatphobia.”

Counterfeit Chic reports on the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority and its controversial policy on religious headgear: “Imagine being permitted to wear a religious symbol to work at your government job — but only if your employer’s logo were incorporated into it.” Sikh men and Muslim women would be made to wear the MTA logo on their headgear in order to better identify them, according to the MTA, to customers. But as Counterfeit Chic asks, “Isn’t the rest of the required uniform sufficient to convey the information that an individual is an MTA employee? Or is MTA really saying that the message sent by certain religious headwear is so loud (and scary) that it drowns out other sartorial signals and must be partially obscured by a governmental symbol?”

France, after banning headscarves in schools, considers banning any form of full hijab in the name of secularism. “If it were determined that wearing the burka is a submissive act, and that it is contrary to republican principles,” government spokesman Luc Chatel said, “naturally parliament would have to drawn the necessary conclusions.” State violence for your own good, seems to be the argument. President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an address to Parliament, called the burqa a “sign of subjugation, of the submission of women,” and indicated that he would support a ban on the wearing of the garment. Will France once again shoulder this “white man’s burden,” and forcibly unveil women in an effort to mold them into a “appropriate” French feminine civic body? How might this be continuous with those historical statutes and sumptuary laws by European imperial powers that also legislated –and punished!– the sartorial decisions of colonized populations, populations who (in the language of imperialism) required “civilizing” and “moral uplift”? Meanwhile, comments at Jezebel and Feministing are flying fast and furious with condemnations of the burqa and cheers for Sarkozy and, implicitly, for the state violence that would necessarily accompany a ban.

Meanwhile, France has also banned face masks at demonstrations and protests in order to deny protesters anonymity in their “threats to public order.” Of course, this comes at a moment in which protesting Iranians are covering their faces to protect themselves from tear gas but also other forms of state retaliation. Sometimes being uncovered, being forced into visibility by the state and for state purposes (identification, surveillance, and discipline), is the real danger.

The communications studies group blog Cac.ophony muses upon the imaginative possibilities of hijab punk: “Ultimate Hijab Punk story to read: “Misli Midhib, Punk Rock Hijabi” by Cihan Kaan about a girl named Misli who is dropped down to the earth via a meteor and who covers her cosmic skin with a full hijab and performs Sufi whirls to disrupt the narratives of Muslim women.”

On a related note, how about a flashback to Muslimah Media Watch on the French guerilla street artist and provocateur Princess Hijab, “who began her ‘noble cause’ of ‘hijab-ising’ advertisements in 2006. She does this by using spray paint and a black marker to cover women’s faces and bodies in ads, or by pasting ‘hijab ad’ posters everywhere she goes.”

And finally, a bit of hijab humor (via Racialicious)– “Talking to Someone Wearing a Headscarf: An Etiquette Guide. I like, “Attempt Assistance. Make sure you ask whether she was forced to wear the scarf. Don’t believe her if she says no, and make sure to tell her not to fear her older brother or the men in her family. If she mentions wearing the hijab is her own choice, do make sure you tell her she is still oppressed, even if she isn’t aware of it just yet. Offer to keep in touch if she ever needs support.”

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The Fat Lies the Fashion Industry Is Telling

Ann Taylor and Bloomingdale’s recently joined Ellen Tracy, the Gap, and Banana Republic in slashing plus-sizes (size 16 and up) from their store inventories. While some retail experts are quick to reassure the public that “it has nothing to do with fat phobia”—instead, they insist that that plus-size lines make bad business sense due to high production costs and low consumer demand—this doesn’t really pass muster given the oft-cited fact that American women are on average a size 14 and that 70% of women are size 12 and up. Great style blogs like Fatshionista and Frocks & Frou Frou (to name only two that we love) and the popularity of made-to-measure services like those offered by some ingenious designers on the online marketplace Etsy.com (see the black dress lillipilli of Frocks & Frou Frou is wearing in the image!) demonstrate how high the demand for stylish togs are among larger women.

Fat phobia cannot be explained away by economic determinist arguments. Anyone who caught the fifth episode of The Fashion Show (Bravo’s rather uninspiring replacement for Project Runway) painfully witnessed the foul attitude some fashion designers have about plus-sized women.* And as Tatiana the Anonymous Model points out, “[I]f the cost of garment development were the only reason that plus-size ranges are making a hasty exit from shop shelves, we would be seeing the discontinuation of petite lines [another non-standard size], because they face all of the same expenses. And that hasn’t been happening.”

* And in the clips I saw, it seemed as if a number of the women were “normal skinny,” as opposed to “model skinny,” which nonetheless inspired tears and tantrums from the contestants. — Mimi

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Fat and Fashion

Again, all apologies for the absence. Minh-ha and I were slammed this last semester with teaching and writing, and had no time for the blog. We’re specifically getting together in February, though, to write some collaborative pieces for our upcoming book manuscript on war and fashion (yes, those two things together!), so hopefully we’ll pound a few out for this space as well.

In the meanwhile, let me plug Fatshionista, a collaborative blog about fat and fashion that is consistently smart and on point about the discourses and practices that imagine these qualities as perpetually at odds. This last post by Leslie is an extended riff on the fabulous post at Jezebel about fashion writers’ proclivity to equate fat with “sloppy” and lazy, and to thereby name fat as the enemy of fashion proper:

Although the sizism of these kinds of pieces — specifically denied by both writers — is easily parsed from the continual references to “tent-size” shirts, “sloppiness,” and “XXL polo shirts”, what’s also distressing is their classism. While dressing well needn’t be expensive, what these writers seem to be calling for isn’t merely fashion as fun self-expression, it’s fashion as a system of social representation — the idea that one ought to look good, so that one can be recognized by other good-looking people, and feel mutually reassured in one’s tastes.

But it’s more than classism, Leslie argues. That, in fact, fat at any price range is never deemed fashionable:

High fashion and the arbiters of style have a built-in fat ceiling beyond which no body past a particular size (an 8? a 10? a – gasp – 12?) may pass; fat people, as a group, simply lack any kind of similar access to stylish and well-fitting clothes in any kind of real selection, not simply because those clothes are expensive – although they are – but because they don’t exist. While some heinously overpriced blahwear for up-to-a-size-24 fats can be found at a premium in the darkest dustiest basement-banished corner of the occasional high-end department store (or, at least, on their website) the selection even among the $400 polyester jersey dresses is – to put it delicately – unimpressive. And there is no such thing as fat haute couture, period.

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