Freaking Fatness through History: Critical Intersections of Fatness and Disability

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Cantrell, Amber
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This project seeks to explore the connections that are possible between the fields of fat studies and disability studies. Fat studies problematizes the common cultural reading of the fat body as “bad” and medicalized body. Notions of “bad” and pathologized bodies are also explored in disability studies scholarship. However, few scholars are exploring what possibilities lie in the intersection of these two fields of inquiry. In this paper, I will focus on both the historical and modern freak show as platforms for the display of the fat figure. In the first chapter I discuss how historical freak shows provide insight into the construction of the fat figure and the meaning of fatness throughout the nineteenth century. In the second chapter, I shift the lens of analysis from fat women in the historical freak show to portrayals of fatness in the twenty-first century in the reality television show, The Biggest Loser. These two freak show platforms highlight the changing meaning of the fat figure and challenge dominant assumptions about the fat body, proposing instead that the fat figure viewed as a disabled body enables subversive discourse and solidarity.
fat studies, disability studies, freak show