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Fat Blame

How the War on Obesity Victimizes Women and Children

April Michelle Herndon

May 2014
232 pages, 8 photographs, 6 x 9
CultureAmerica
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1965-8, $29.95

book cover imageA four year old Mexican American girl is taken away from her parents because she is obese and experiencing health problems related to her weight. Such a measure, once seen as extreme, quickly comes to be seen as a logical means of addressing a problem viewed as nothing short of child abuse. And yet, for all the purported concern for these children’s welfare, little if any mention is ever made of the psychological ramifications of removing children from their families. They are simply the latest victims of the war on obesity—a war declared on a “disease” but conducted, April Herndon contends in this book, along cultural lines.

Fat Blame is a book about how the war on obesity is, in many ways, shaping up to be a battle against women and children, especially women and children who are marginalized via class and race. While conceding that fatness can be linked to certain conditions, or that some populations might be heavier than others, Herndon is more interested in the ways women and children are blamed for obesity and the ways interventions aimed at preventing obesity are problematic in and of themselves. From bariatric surgeries being performed on children to women being positioned as responsible for carrying to term a generation of thin children, her book looks closely at the stories of real people whose lives are drastically altered by interventions that are supposedly for their own good.

As with so many practices surrounding bodies and health, like dieting, people are often simultaneously blamed and empowered through policies and interventions, especially those that seem to offer them choices. What Herndon reveals is how such choices only offer the illusion of being empowering. Rather, she shows how woman and children are pushed, pulled, and sometimes victimized by interventions such as bariatric surgeries, limits on reproductive technologies, and having their families broken up by the courts. Only by identifying members of this group as victims of discrimination, she argues, can we hope to return them to a fuller and richer kind of agency.

In declaring a war on obesity, the United States has said that fat is one of the most serious enemies it faces. Fat Blame asks us to confront the real enemy—the moral, political, and ideological significance of our every move in this “war.”

“Herndon’s focus is excellent. I don’t know any other book that focuses exclusively on the war on obesity as a war on women and children. Fat Blame helps us to think through the ways that this public health campaign can be seen as a continuation of a longer set of policies and ideologies that control and hurt women and children.”—Amy Farrell, author of Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture

“This sharp, incisive, well researched book illuminates some of the ideological baggage of anti-obesity sentiment and campaigns, in particular anti-woman and anti-child ideologies.  Through smart analyses of court cases, public health campaigns, bariatric surgeries, and maternal obesity, Herndon throws into question the wisdom of our most dominant weapons in the war on obesity by demonstrating their danger to women and children, especially those with marginal class or race status.”—Kathleen LeBesco, author of Revolting Bodies: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity

APRIL MICHELLE HERNDON is associate professor of English at Winona State University in Minnesota. She also teaches Women’s and Gender Studies courses. She is also a health writer at Psychologytoday.com.

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