Oregon State University to Offer ‘Fat Studies’ Course

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Oregon State University will offer a course on fat studies next spring.

“Fat Studies” looks at “body weight, shape, and size as an area of human difference subject to privilege and discrimination.” The course describes “weightism” as a form of oppression that intersects with “other systems of oppression based on gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, and ability.” The course explores forms of activism for fighting this supposed oppression.

In keeping with its “intersectional” approach, the course is cross-listed under Women’s and Gender Studies. Students must take prerequisite courses in Women’s and Gender Studies before taking “Fat Studies.”

According to research by Campus Reform, course instructor Patti Lou-Watkins has published extensively on “weightism.”

In a March 2013 article, Lou-Watkins argues against the “alleged threat to human health” that obesity poses. Citing “trans-disciplinary research”, she argues that most people who diet and exercise fail to achieve lasting weight loss. Dieting can cause harm, for example by encouraging eating disorders. She lauds the “Healthy at Every Size” movement, which claims that weight loss is irrelevant to improving health.

“While weight loss may occur, weight is not considered a mediator in the process”, Lou-Watkins states.

In “Teaching Fat Studies: from Conception to Reception”, Lou-Watkins lauds the “tremendous growth” of fat studies in recent years. She cites a growing number of fat studies courses as a sign of improvement.

In another article, Lou-Watkins describes how she came to “embrace feminist pedagogy in terms of course content as well as classroom practices.”

“My course now frames body image disturbances more as a function of oppressive societal structures than of individual pathology”, she states.

A clinical psychologist, Lou-Watkins started out researching anxiety disorders and adult stress. Her research evolved to focus on “body image disorders, particularly as they relate to weight bias and physical activity.”

In addition to “Fat Studies”, Lou-Watkin teaches Women, Weight, & Body Image”. The course examines “weightism as a system of oppression that intersects with other systems of oppression including sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and ageism.”

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