#31: Where does fat phobia come from?

with Sabrina Strings, PhD

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In this episode we discuss…

  • what influenced sabrina’s research on the intersection between race, embodiment, and fat phobia

  • misconceptions that only white women are “dying to be thin”

  • sabrina’s book fearing the black body: the racial origins of fat phobia

  • changing beauty ideals represented in artwork by Rubens, Botticelli, and Titian vs. Gainsborough

  • how the transition in beauty ideals from the renaissance to the enlightenment (from more curvaceous to slender) involved race

  • the influence of the slave trade on assumptions about race, character traits, and body size

  • the influence of protestantism on idealizing slenderness and eating in moderation

  • why the rise of fat phobia was not rooted in medical concerns — and when the medical establishment did become concerned about body weight

  • the origin of “obesity science” and why BMI measures include arbitrary cut-offs

  • how weight stigma and its consequences like weight cycling contribute to poor health outcomes for people in larger bodies

  • the importance of helping children avoid dieting and pursuing weight loss

  • how activists and allies can advocate for medical practitioners and institutions to end utilization of BMI as a health measure

  • why prescribing weight loss leads to harm in the long run

  • individual and macro paths to advocate for change

  • using data to help others see why BMI is a flawed measure

  • discussing the history of weight stigma to point out the shaky foundation of the assumed connection between health and weight

  • positive changes Sabrina has observed in the conversation around health and weight

  • Sabrina’s answer to the million dollar question

Dr. Sabrina Strings talks us through her research on the origins of fat phobia and the thin ideal, why these phenomenon have always been tied to race, and why the assumed connection between weight and health is built on a shaky foundation.

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Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. is Asst. Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. She was a recipient of the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship with a joint appointment in the School of Public Health and Department of Sociology. A certified yoga teacher, her work on yoga has been featured in The Feminist Wire, Yoga International, and LA Yoga.Sabrina is also an award winning author with publications in diverse venues including, Ethnic and Racial Studies; Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society and Feminist Media Studies.Her new book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019), was named one of Essence magazine’s "10 Books We're Dying To Toss Into Our Summer Totes." It also made “must read” lists in Ms. Magazine, Colorlines, and Bitchmedia, and has been featured on NPR, KPFA and WNYC.

Connect with Sabrina on Twitter and read her book.

Resources mentioned:

Jordan Best