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Fat liberation discussion held on campus

According to Perez (above left) fat oppression is based in classism, racism, ableism and misogyny. (Emily Burian)
According to Perez (above left) fat oppression is based in classism, racism, ableism and misogyny. (Emily Burian)

On Nov. 23, an eager and attentive audience filled the gathering hall of the Graduate School of Business as five local activists discussed the importance of fat liberation.

The event was hosted by the ethnic studies department, the women, gender, and sexuality studies (WGSS) department and was moderated by Jezebel Delilah X. It hosted four fat liberation activists, Irene McCalphin (aka Magnoliah Black), Ifasina Clear, Timnah Steinman and Dr. Elena Escalera. The activists discussed what fat liberation means to them, what brought them to it, the impact of fatness personally, professionally and academically, the intersections of fat, race, class, gender, disability, and how non-fat allies can be in solidarity with fat liberation.

Mills student Sophia Perez organized the event with Fat at Mills (FAM) to talk about fat liberation and body positivity that includes people of color and disabled people. FAM is the result of Perez’s project for a WGSS class.  Although it is not an official group, Perez believes that FAM will benefit the Mills community by providing a safe space for discussions about body positivity.

For Mills students who are non-fat, it is important to recognize fat oppression, Perez said.

“Fat oppression is rooted in classism, racism, ableism, and misogyny. It is about the subordination of the body, especially women’s bodies,” Perez said. “This is another way for Mills students to engage in meaningful and liberatory work. ”

The event started off with the activists explaining how they came to fat liberation. X expressed how fat liberation is an issue of oppression and more than just accepting yourself.

“I remember going to college and literally not being able to sit in my desk,” X said. “That is not conducive to me learning and being comfortable and feeling safe. But so often when we talk about fatness, people don’t think about it as oppression, marginalization or exclusion — they often say you just need to work on loving or accepting yourself.”

The panel also discussed pressing health concerns of being diagnosed and treated as a fat person.

“It took seven years to find a tumor in my pituitary,” X said. “They were saying your cycle hasn’t gone away because you’re fat. It took years and years before they found that tumor. We have fat people who are dying because doctors are saying its because you’re fat.”

In discussing how fatness has limited aspects of access when it comes to careers, love life and academic life, Clear addressed the issue of societal pressures to be in a romantic relationship.

“There’s something about how I am supposed to aspire to be a partner in order to validate myself as a fat person. Being loved and being desired is a basic human desire, and yet it is not a measure of humanity,” Clear said.

The panel concluded with Dr. Escalera explaining the difference between body positivity and fat liberation.

“Body positivity is about feeling good about yourself and feeling human, and I applaud you for that, but meanwhile people are dying; there are people who don’t have enough to eat even though they are fat,” Escalera said. “This isn’t about how good you feel about yourself; this is about civil rights.”