The following is an excerpt from the new book Queering Fat Embodiment. It’s an academic text so it’s expensive but available online.
As fat studies scholars have maintained, fat bodies are particularly disadvantaged in terms of cultural capital (Gerber and Quinn 2008, Lebesco 2004). In a culture that values slimness over corpulence as not only more beautiful or desirable but also more moral and good, fatness has a negative effect on one’s cultural capital and, subsequently, one’s ability to acquire other types of capital. Importantly, Bourdieu argues that one of the most significant aspects of cultural capital is its embeddedness within the body: ‘the body is the most indisputable materialisation of class tastes’ (1984: 190). While ‘one’s taste might be expressed through the relatively transitory choices made in commodity consumption – how one dresses, the style in which one’s house is decorated – [it] is represented and reproduced in a far more permanent way through embodiment’ (Lupton 1996: 95). The thin body is read as moral/ good/controlled/refined. This is because, in part, the thin body is never regarded as a ‘natural’ body. as Bourdieu asserts, ‘the legitimate use of the body is spontaneously perceived as an index of moral uprightness, so that its opposite, a ‘natural’ body, is seen as an index of laisser-aller (‘letting oneself go’), a culpable surrender to facility’ (1984: 193). The thin body, for most people, is only attainable through rigorous effort, requiring time and money. And yet, as Gerber and Quinn assert, ‘efforts at controlling body size … rarely result in the desired bodily capital’: this has the effect of ‘guaranteeing the rarity of ‘ideal weight’ and thus its value’ as a kind of cultural capital (2008: 6).
Read any number of news pieces on the ‘obesity epidemic’ and it is clear that fat people have become a scapegoat of sorts for a lot of the Western world’s worst qualities. more often than not, they are imagined as one large homogenous group that exemplify all that is ‘wrong’ with Western culture: they drive around in gas-guzzling SUVs, watch endless hours of TV on expensive plasma screens, and eat mindlessly out of fast food containers, all while remaining miraculously ignorant of basic health principles and the environmental impact of their selfish consumption practices. As a culture, we seem to be unable to disconnect the metaphor of fatness from its reality. Fat folks, just like their thin or ‘average’ sized counterparts, consume food (healthy and unhealthy), buy cars (hybrids and gas-guzzlers alike), purchase homes, and consume many other necessary (and not-so-necessary) products. On the other hand, as cultural outsiders with sometimes-limited access to the capital required to engage in normative consumption practices, many fat people are required to consume differently. Importantly, this point is especially true with regard to the consumption of fashion. Due to historically unequal access to clothing in fat sizes, the consumption of fat fashion has happened in very different ways than the consumption of what is often referred to as ‘straight-sized’ fashion.
Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Fashion’s ‘Forgotten Woman’: How fat bodies queer fashion and consumption’, in Queering Fat Embodiment eds. Cat Pausé, Jackie Wykes and Samantha Murray (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 77-78. Copyright © 2014