Researcher studies how women of size navigate unfriendly anti-fat culture

HyperInvisible Fat WomanA TCU researcher has a new book out entitled The Hyper(in)Visible Fat Woman. The text is a collection of interviews from 74 women, all of whom are labeled “obese.” Jeannine Gailey, associate professor of sociology and women and gender studies, wrote the book to understand how women of size negotiate a cultural landscape that is increasingly anti-fat. Gailey argues that women of size in North America occupy a paradoxical social position: as ‘fat’ women they receive exceptional (critical) attention, while simultaneously their subjectivity—in terms of their own needs, desires, and lives—is erased. In this way their experience veers painfully between the hypervisible and the hyperinvisible.

“I started this research by trying to understand the struggles that women of size go through”, said Gailey. “I was most surprised to hear about the abuse and harassment from strangers. The verbal abuse they endured was shocking and heartbreaking.”

Interviewees reported they had rocks, frog legs thrown at them and were the subject constant verbal abuse. Some of the women that Gailey spoke with had either thought about or attempted suicide because of bullying. One of the women interviewed remembered her parents and family members saying, “You got to quit eating so much; you are going to be as big as a house.” Her mother also suggested that she would never have a boyfriend because of her weight. The message was that she was a bad person because she was “overweight.”

“People do not just hate fat people – they are actually afraid of fat people, because it reminds them that they, too, could become fat,” said Gailey.

In the text, Gailey recounts stories of women being treated as if they were hyperinvisible. One young woman recounts that during her teenage years, when she wasn’t as heavy, people would speak to her in public. That changed when she was at her heaviest, citing that people wouldn’t look her in the eyes or that they would look past her.

“When we talk about being invisible, we don’t really mean that people can’t see you. We mean that people are able to see you, but that they intentionally dismiss you,” said Gailey.

Gailey also highlights the ways some women are able to successfully overcome the dominant antifat message. The resulting book fills a significant gap in the literature by emphasizing women’s own experiences, and by developing a much-needed conceptual framework for analyzing marginalized bodies.

The Hyper(in)visible Fat Woman is published by Palgrave MacMillan and available now.


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