Most people can’t imagine what it’s like for fat people to go out in public, according to Lucas Crawford.
“Just walking down the street as a fat person in most places in Canada—and I think Vancouver is a bit extra intense in this way—you just get tons, tons of public attention,” Crawford told the Georgia Straight by phone. “From stares and comments and leers and exclusions of various kinds—just real public disrespect.”
Crawford is the Ruth Wynn Woodward lecturer in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University. He’s organizing a series of free events called Fat Matters, which will take place on SFU’s Vancouver campus.
Fat Matters will begin with a screening of the CBC documentary My Big Fat Diet on Monday (March 3) in Harbour Centre Room 7000. The film follows Namgis First Nation members as they return to a more traditional diet as part of a study. One of the filmmakers as well as experts in First Nations and fat studies will be on hand to provide commentary.
The series will continue with screenings of The Machinist, starring Christian Bale, on March 13 and Fat, Bald, Short Man, an animated feature, on April 2. On March 13, Janis Ledwell-Hunt of Vancouver Island University will give a public lecture titled “Re-mapping Anorexia: Trans-ordered Eating and Affect”.
Crawford noted the events are designed to encourage dialogue about “how fat bodies have come to mean so many negative things in our culture”. He also wants to introduce to the public the work of academics in the small but vibrant field of fat studies.
“So much of the public conversation about fatness is mired in fat-shaming and a lot of violence toward fat people,” Crawford said. “While the fat acceptance movement has changed life for a lot of people, I think we need to start a new conversation that takes a wider approach—pun intended, I guess—and aims for a bit of a wider audience.”
Everyone is welcome to attend, according to Crawford. He hopes to get people talking about how conceptions of fatness are shaped by culture, class, and race, and to think about how we speak about fat and food and why we do so.
Crawford is critical of terms such as “obesity epidemic” and “war on obesity”, which are often employed by politicians, health authorities, and media commentators.
“It really turns fatness into a one-dimensional moral issue,” Crawford said. “I think even if the policy goal is to create thinner people, I don’t think the rhetoric of war and destruction and shame is actually a way to do it. So, I see it as hurtful, but also as ineffective.”
In October 2013, Twitter was flooded with offensive tweets—and responses from fat activists and allies—during #FatShamingWeek, promoted by a U.S.-based website that describes itself as a “blog for heterosexual, masculine men”.
A few months earlier, Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, was widely criticized for tweeting: “Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth”.
Although there was an outcry, many people think along these lines, Crawford noted. He said that fat people, even if they have a doctorate, continually deal with others’ assumptions that they are intellectually or morally weak.
Indeed, while many people are aware of sexism and homophobia, sizeism and fatphobia still haven’t entered mainstream consciousness.
“People don’t even know those words, I don’t think,” Crawford said. “So, we want to get out there and use them, so people hear them and have access to the ideas that underlie those words.”