Fat is a Social Work Issue: Fat Bodies, Moral Regulation, and the History of Social Work

May Friedman


Fat bodies are discriminated against in a variety of individual and structural ways. On an individual level, the experiences of fat stigma are debilitating. On a societal level, the war on obesity is a focal point for social policy in both Canada and the United States. Social work, as a profession that considers individual experiences and contextualizes these experiences within systems and structures, must thus consider the implications of bodies that are perceived as deviant on the basis of size. Yet there is a dearth of scholarship that positions fat stigma and the size acceptance movement as allied with other realms of activist social work. This article addresses this omission by considering the need for an incorporation of size acceptance and fat activism into social work scholarship and practice. This is accomplished through three main themes. First, I consider the nature of fat oppression and the need for antioppressive social work practitioners and scholars to give credence to the real implications of fat. Second, I examine the rhetoric of the obesity epidemic and consider why social workers need to be critical of social policies that stem from this discourse. Finally, I suggest that the tones of social control and moral panic that underpin much of the discourse around fat bodies are reminiscent of otherconcerning trends within the history of the social work profession.


fat studies, fat activism, moral regulation, social policy

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