Friday Ephemera
Early Experiments In Teleportation

Gorging On Grievance

Writing in the pages of Inside Higher Ed, sociology student and “self-identified fat woman” Bobbi Reidinger bemoans the hardships of the chunky would-be educator:

Fat academics need to be more vocal in calls for increased structural accessibility such as larger desks or substitutions for tables and chairs, greater ease in access to elevators, and more. Yet in addition to structural changes that campuses could make to help people of size be more comfortable -- such as providing larger bathrooms, chairs without arms and larger auditorium seating -- we need to discuss more techniques to combat stigma within classrooms.

You see, it’s not just a question of remodelling half the campus:

Weight-based stigma has an impact on the credibility of fat academics, in particular female academics who often must contend with both gender and fat stigmas... Weight stigma negatively impacts a professor’s credibility as a communicator within the classroom, with greater credibility being given to those who argue against their own self-interest.

Being sufficiently obese that it requires special furniture and enlarged bathrooms, and such that it becomes an obvious topic of classroom conversation, is in a person’s self-interest, apparently. As opposed to, say, a significant health concern - a cause of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, joint failure, incontinence, sleep apnea, breathing problems, depression, anxiety, and cancer.

Therefore, when a fat professor makes their fatness salient inside the classroom, their fatness overrides their educational and occupational statuses, as students interpret this information as coming from an unreliable source.

It occurs to me that if an overweight educator, or would-be educator, presents her own fatness as a kind of moral elevation, a political piety arrived at via victimhood, and then demands oversized desks, plus-sized seats without arms, modified lifts, modified bathrooms, modified auditoria, “and more” – and does all this while sidestepping responsibility for her own rotundity – then students would do well to question the motives and credibility of such a person. And when a teacher or grad student fails to convince a class and promptly blames that failure on some alleged-but-undemonstrated sexism or “weight stigma,” as if that were both obvious and the only conceivable explanation, this is not necessarily proof of injustice or unrecognised talent.

Fat professors often receive lower student evaluations than their thin counterparts, as they don’t fit the “normal body” of a professor. 

Again, this may not be about fatness per se, but may have something to do with the kinds of personalities attracted to “fat studies” and “fat activism” in academia and beyond, and the kinds of mental contortions so common to the type – contortions that are subsequently glorified as educational content and radical heft. (To say nothing of Ms Reidinger’s affectation of needlessly specifying the race of people who interact with her – “One colleague, a white man…”) Likewise, when a grad student insists that the self-serving claims of self-defined victims, including her own, should not be questioned or verified, then this isn’t an obvious basis for respect or academic gravitas: 

I tell students it isn’t the job of the marginalised to prove their marginalisation and that we must take the words of those who suffer discrimination as true and legitimate. 

In short, don’t question me.

This, we’re told, constitutes “critical thought.”