The Next Big Thing? ‘Fat Studies’ Courses, Fat Awareness Groups Spread Across Universities

Described as an “emerging academic field” that focuses on combating “weightism,” “fat stigma,” and the “weight based oppression” of fat people, “fat studies” courses are popping up on college campuses across the country.

Typically found in women and gender studies departments, fat studies courses don’t study obesity as a leading cause of death in America but rather approach fatness as a “social justice” issue, and usually focus on “fat liberation” movements and activism as ways to combat the “stigma” attached to obesity.

During the winter 2016 term (happening now), Oregon State University is offering a three-credit course simply titled “Fat Studies.” According to the university website, the course “Frames weight-based oppression as a social justice issue, exploring forms of activism used to counter weightism perpetuated throughout various societal institutions.”

Fat studies courses typically advocate against the position that obesity is unhealthy or undesirable, instead calling for understanding and acceptance. One such course offered by the University of Maryland College Park, singles out dieting as a “special enemy” that must be defeated. The syllabus for “Introduction To Fat Studies” states that the field of fat studies “is not concerned with the eradication of fatness, but with offering a sustained critique of anti-fat sentiment, discrimination, and policy.” Reading material for that course included reading something called the “Fat Liberation Manifesto.” Similarly, Willamette University offered a fat studies class this past fall titled “Fat!: The science, culture, and politics of weight.” According to the university website, the course “takes the perspective of the growing field of fat studies—an approach that asks us to suspend the dominant culture’s often reflexive and moralistic negative judgments about fat.” A PowerPoint presentation from the course consistently discourages weight loss and denies that being fat is unhealthy.