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Think of the Hippopotamus: Rights Consciousness in the Fat Acceptance Movement

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All the recent attention to the so-called obesity epidemic provides a fascinating context for understanding interactions between civil rights consciousness and the ordinary lives of fat people, who both deploy and resist the ideological formations that make up our most basic presumptions about who deserves rights protections. This study of fat acceptance advocates asks how stigmatized people who are excluded from legal protections muster descriptions of themselves as deserving inclusion in antidiscrimination laws. Analysis of in-depth interviews with fat acceptance advocates from around the United States reveals elaborate techniques for managing social life and enacting legality that coexist with more narrowly framed and contradictory arguments for rights. Culturally dominant logics for reasoning about what persons deserve prefigure what is possible to say in defense of fat people, in many ways even for fat advocates themselves. And yet in their struggles to overcome the limitations of the presumptions they are given, fat advocates reveal deep tensions in our antidiscrimination ethics and hint at a new way to think about difference.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Michigan

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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