Earlier this month, several websites covered news of an upcoming “fat studies” course that will be taught at Oregon State by Associate Professor Patti Lou Watkins. From the way some reporters wrote about it, you might have concluded that fat studies was some brand-new bit of nonsense. In fact, I wrote about fat studies in my 2011 book The Victims’ Revolution, a critical survey of several academic “disciplines” that fall under the general category of identity studies. Even then, fat studies was a pretty established field.
To be sure, it’s nowhere near as widespread as, say, women’s studies or black studies or queer studies. But it already has its own key founding text, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight (2008), by Linda Bacon, and its own classroom anthology, The Fat Studies Reader (2009), edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. Courses in fat studies have been offered at several colleges, and it’s been accepted with surprising rapidity as a legitimate area of study.
Now, the basic premise of all of these identity-based “studies” is that the members of the groups in question are all oppressed victims. Fat studies is no exception. Fat people are victims of “sizeism,” a.k.a. “fat oppression.” If you’re fat, part of the oppression you experience is constantly being told that you should lose weight for the sake of your health. According to fat studies, when you suggest that a portly pal skip that second slice of cake, you’re not showing concern for his or her well-being; you’re committing a microaggression, expressing bigotry, causing emotional pain. Because — and this, believe it or not, is a central article of faith in fat studies — it’s possible to be healthy at any weight. Of course, as anyone who has ever watched My 600-Pound Life knows, this last claim is not only without medical basis; it’s a breathtakingly irresponsible thing to say to a corpulent person.
But then, fat studies isn’t about facts. To a large extent — and it has this in common with other identity studies, although in this regard fat studies may well outdo them all — it’s about group therapy. When I attended a fat-studies panel at the 2010 National Women’s Studies Association convention in Denver (overwhelmingly, fat studies is a female-dominated discipline), I heard professors and graduate students moan and groan about insensitive doctors who had told them that their BMI was too high; about TV ads that push sugary foods on them; about ads for diet products that make them feel bad about themselves; about the slim models in women’s magazines, who also make them feel bad about themselves; and so on.
Everything, in short, was someone else’s fault. Or capitalism’s. What it all came down to — and I’m not making this up — was a horrific phenomenon called healthism. You see, encouraging people to watch their health is (as I put it in The Victims’ Revolution) “a coercive and potentially fascist act linked to capitalism, racism, and Nazi-style eugenics.” That’s healthism.
Yes, they’re serious. If you don’t buy it, dig this, first reported at Campus Reform. In a talk given on August 3 at this year’s convention of the American Psychological Association, Joan Chrisler, who teaches psychology at Connecticut College, accused doctors of “fat shaming” when they propose that their plump patients drop a few. Such conduct by physicians, charged Chrisler, is “mentally and physically harmful.”
One scholar accused doctors of ‘fat shaming’ when they propose that their plump patients drop a few. Such conduct by physicians is ‘mentally and physically harmful.’
Chrisler’s talk was entitled “Weapons of Mass Distraction — Confronting Sizeism.” Echoing Bacon’s dangerous “health at every size” fiction, Chrisler said: “It is not possible to determine a person’s health status on the basis of their weight.” Instead of admitting that morbidly obese people risk a wide range of physical disorders and an early death, Chrisler savaged health-care providers whose “fat-shaming” has supposedly led plump girls to commit suicide. This is what fat-studies professors like to do — lecture doctors about medicine.
As noted, fat studies is, in large part, group therapy disguised as education. And it’s not even good therapy: instead of providing students with hard knowledge and real-life skills that can help them build self-confidence and rise above their circumstances, it indoctrinates them with an ideology that inculcates and reinforces feelings of bitter victimhood and individual helplessness. But in a very special sense, fat studies is even worse than the other identity studies. It takes XXXL-size college kids — who are at an age when it’s important to establish healthful lifelong habits and when it’s easier to get in shape than it will be later in life — and brainwashes them into thinking of their bulk as a fact of their immutable identity. Offhand, it’s hard to come up with a curriculum that could be more catastrophic for such a person, not only physically but psychologically. Alas, given the prevalence among young Americans today of both excess weight and a disinclination to take personal responsibility, this field may have a big, big future.