Monday, December 12, 2011

Fat in the Classroom: What NOT to Do

Hi, folks! For awhile now I've been working on an "Intro to Teaching Fat Studies" presentation with a colleague, which we plan to make into an online workshop. Thus far, our focus has been on a Fat Studies 101 sort of deal and topics and activities which might be useful in the classroom.

We had bounced around ideas about a practical section that addressed the issue of desks, though I had tabled it--in part because there's no simple solution. However, the issues of desks and chairs has come up a good bit in my dissertation interviews with size accepting fat women, and this week I started recalling other disastrous classroom experiences friends have told me. Teaching teachers how not to be assholes about fatness should really be our first priority...and a bare minimum for educators interested in being, you know, good educators.

So my goal is to have the first section of our online workshop deal with these sorts of practical issues--in large part, a "What NOT to Do" or a primer on "how not to shame and alienate fat students."

Thus far, I start out by suggesting that teachers don't comment on students' bodies at all, noting that marginalized folks live in a world which thinks nothing of commenting on their bodies as if they are public property and open to commentary/scrutiny. 

Obviously, another important suggestion,  for all kinds of reasons besides not shaming fat students, is not to WEIGH students or have them weigh themselves.

Also, educators shouldn't use fat or body-shaming photos or other imagery or analogies in an uncritical way. For example, teachers shouldn't engage in the popular meme that fat folks are the de-evolution of the species (Google "evolution fat" if you are unfamiliar with this increasingly popular imagery/meme).

But I need some more ideas. Have your educators engaged in body shaming and/or privileging of certain bodies in your classes?* Hearing from you all about your own experiences will help me give teachers more concrete examples and alternatives. Let me know what teachers are doing wrong, so we can try to educate folks and improve the classroom experience for fat folks.**  

Edited to add: Please, if you are willing, also share how this experience made you feel. I think it is important to voice the impact this stuff has on real live people.  

Edited to add Pt 2: If you don't feel like leaving a public comment, feel free to email me confidentially at withoutscene at gmail dot com. 

*The workshop will be about fat, but I plan to address the larger context of bodies and embodiment in the classroom.
**We focus on the college setting, but experiences at all levels of education are surely helpful.


  1. In a psychopathology/"abnormal psych" class, a professor was giving a lecture on transference and counter-transference (when a patient or clinician projects feelings/attributes to one another that are not actually present). He used Irvin Yalom's "Fat Lady," in which Yalom describes his overwhelming hatred and disgust for a fat patient. It was horrible and throughout the discussion of the article I felt like I was going to throw up. It was almost 10 years ago but even now as I write this comment I can feel the shame creeping up the back of my neck.

  2. @Unknown I hadn't heard of Yalom's "Fat Lady"--though when I Googled it I found an abstract that looked like a good critique. It reminds me of an article a colleague posted where the storyteller situated themselves as righteous for their supposed "acceptance" which all read to me as very false, pretentious, and ultimately conveying lack of empathy...though the colleague had read it as a beautiful story.

    Anyway, the last part of your comment is really important to me--I think it will be crucial for me to express that this stuff doesn't do some theoretical damage, but affects people's lived experience in a palpable way that lasts and lasts. Thank you for sharing.