2010 PCA/ACA Conference/Fat Studies: Call for Papers

From Julia McCrossin, a call for papers.

You can also feel free to use this as an open thread.

2010 PCA/ACA Conference

Fat Studies Area

Call for Papers

Fat Studies is becoming an interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary field of study that confronts and critiques cultural constraints against notions of “fatness” and “the fat body”; explores fat bodies as they live in, are shaped by, and remake the world; and creates paradigms for the development of fat acceptance or celebration within mass culture. Fat Studies uses body size as the starting part for a wide-ranging theorization and explication of how societies and cultures, past and present, have conceptualized all bodies and the political/cultural meanings ascribed to every body. Fat Studies reminds us that all bodies are inscribed with the fears and hopes of the particular culture they reside in, and these emotions often are mislabeled as objective “facts” of health and biology. More importantly, perhaps, Fat Studies insists on the recognition that fat identity can be as fundamental and world-shaping as other identity constructs analyzed within the academy and represented in media.

Proposals in the area of Fat Studies are being accepted for the 2010 PCA /ACA (Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association) National Conference in St. Louis, MO (March 31 through April 3, 2010 at the Renaissance Grand Hotel St. Louis). We welcome papers and performances from academics, researchers, intellectuals, activists, and artists, in any field of study, and at any stage in their career.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

· representations of fat people in literature, film, music, nonfiction, and the visual arts

· cross-cultural or global constructions of fatness and fat bodies

· cultural, historical, or philosophical meanings of fat and fat bodies

· portrayals of fat individuals and groups in news, media, magazines

· fatness as a social or political identity

· fat acceptance, activism, and/or pride movements and tactics

· approaches to fat and body image in philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology

· fat children in literature, media, and/or pedagogy

· fat as it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, religion, ability, gender, and/or sexuality

· history and/or critique of diet books and scams

· functions of fatphobia or fat oppression in economic and political systems

By December 1, 2009, please send an abstract of 100 – 250 words or a completed paper to Fat Studies Area Co-Chairs Julia McCrossin (jmccross@gwmail.gwu.edu) and Lesleigh Owen (goddess_les@yahoo.com).

Please include your complete contact information and a CV and/or 50 word bio, along with anticipated A/V needs. All submissions are welcome, but please use the information above to ensure your paper fits within the academic and political scopes of Fat Studies. Please also be mindful that Fat Studies is a political project and not merely an umbrella term for all discussions of larger bodies. Also, we encourage submitters to rethink using words like “obesity” and “overweight” in their presentations unless they are used ironically, within quotes, or accompanied by a political analysis.

Presenters must become members of the Popular Culture Association. Find more information on the conference and organization at http://pcaaca.org/conference/national.php.

37 thoughts on “2010 PCA/ACA Conference/Fat Studies: Call for Papers”

  1. Thanks again, Kate, for posting this! I hope all the shapelings will seriously consider submitting an abstract, especially since we relish having activists, artists, and scholars alike on the panels.

  2. Yay, academic studies of fatness!

    I hope it’s really okay if I do use this as an open thread. I adopted a dog about three weeks ago, and since then I’ve becoming increasingly aware of the extent to which our culture’s weight obsession extends beyond the human sphere. I hadn’t quite realized the panic over the so-called obesity epidemic (insert obligatory booga!!! here) had extended to pets as well, mostly because I never before read the comments at all those sites with adorable pictures of cats. But my new dog, a greyhound, came from the track very thin–he had contracted a tick-born disease caused erlichiosis and that can cause weight loss. Greyhounds are lean to start with, so his ribs were extremely prominent. Cue the strangers yelling at me to feed my dog. I’m pleased to report that he’s eating well and has almost reached a healthy weight–he’s still got a little ways to go, but his coat is looking beautiful. And I beg to differ with the mean woman whose response to him was “that’s disgusting.” He’s gorgeous.

    But the effect of my consciousness about dogs and weight was that in googling information about the best ways to re-feed a dog (I consulted the vet of course, but I was looking for more tips about dealing with the attendant gastro-intestinal upsets) was to stumble upon a bunch of screeds about people with fat pets. Some are by veterinarians, and some are comments at places like icanhascheezburger judging owners for “abusing” their animals by overfeeding them. Evidently it’s practically a guarantee that if a site posts a picture of a cute fat cat, then there will be concern trolls opining about how they’re encouraging pet owners to stuff their cats with kitten-flavored doughnuts because they think it’s cute. There are also junkfood science news pieces about how pet obesity is on the rise, because you know, we’re infecting our pets with our fatness or something. There was also recently a great post up at Do No Harm about fat animals not receiving adequate vet care.

    I want to stop rambling, but I was curious what others thought was going on here. I found a few reports of clinical studies about the science of pet obesity, and labs and spaniels gain weight more easily than some other breeds, and neutered and spayed animals gain weight more easily than those who are unaltered. (I hope that doesn’t mean that vets will start recommending that people don’t fix their pets so that they don’t get teh fatz.) But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of epidemiological data out there, let alone actual studies of the effects of weight gain and loss in animals; most of the arguments are based on the “commonsense” notion that fat=unhealthy. Are there any vets out there who can speak to this question? Are people projecting their fatphobia on to other people’s pets? Why? Shelters are overflowing with homeless animals. Are we seriously concerned about dogs and cats being fat? Really!? As the proud owner of a fat cat, these people can kiss her fluffy fat ass.

  3. Are they seeking papers for other people to present? Or are we submitting papers that they expect us to present?

    It’s the line at the end that makes this an issue. “Presenters must become members of the Popular Culture Association.”

    Are they asking us to write a paper…and then also pay $55 AND the cost of travel to present a paper at their conference?

  4. @Elizebeth: They’re seeking abstracts for papers that the writer will read out loud in person on a panel in front of a group at the conference, followed by a question and answer period. And yes, you pay a membership fee, your own travel expenses, and usually a separate conference fee. (Some schools have travel funds for faculty and grad students, but they’ve been cut back a lot during the recession.) That’s how academic conferences work. It’s very glamorous, as you can tell. Professors and graduate students do it because it’s expected of us as part of our professional duties–we share our work and get feedback, we get a line on our CV that makes it clear to our universities that we’re professionally active, and we talk to other researchers with whom we might collaborate and/or whose work we might find helpful. It’s often a precursor to submitting a paper to an academic journal, for which we also do not get paid. The motivation is that if we go to conferences and publish we get to keep our jobs. PCA/ACA is a more open conference than some because they encourage non-academics to participate as well (I’ve never been, but my sense is that it runs like the conferences with which I’m familiar, mixing in papers by activists and independent scholars in ways that aren’t common at other conferences).

  5. @theKP:
    Congratulations on your adoption! That’s so exciting and I’m so glad he’s doing so much better now.

    I also recently adopted a dog from a rescue group that was fairly malnourished. She didn’t have a disease luckily, her lack of muscle and fat was due to the standard neglect and abadonment of most shelter dogs. But when we took her to the vet for the first time he said he thought her weight was fine and that she shouldn’t gain any more. He then proceeded to lecture us on proper portion sizes and how we should stay away from treats and human food. I’m sure he meant well and some of these things are important to know but I was a little put off by how focused he was on my pet’s possible future weight gain.

    Fortunately, she has gained at least ten pounds in the last six months and all of our neighbours tell us how healthy she is now. Her legs have actual muscle tone and her coat is so much softer. These are all good things and I refuse to over-control what she eats. I don’t count how many treats I use in training and I don’t weigh her food before I give it to her. What does her weight matter as long as she’s able to run and play and cuddle and sniff like every other dog? What does it matter if she’s happy and healthy?

    Now, I am also the owner of a pretty fat cat. He’s fat not because we over-feed him but because that’s who he is. He’s never been active, never felt like doing anything other than lazing around licking himself, even as a kitten. And that’s the way he likes it. So what’s the problem?

    I don’t know what’s going with this new category of fatphobia either but I know what you’re talking about and I think it’s craziness. If my pet is unhealthy then I take it to the vet and do what I can to make it better. End of story. Honestly, I don’t see how it’s anyone else’s business how fat my pets are anyway.

  6. Are they asking us to write a paper…and then also pay $55 AND the cost of travel to present a paper at their conference?

    You got it. That’s the academic “business model”, such as it is. Scholars typically pay to attend conferences and present their research (we also don’t receive any payment for research published in scholarly journals). I’ve paid as much as $300~ to join organizations and register for the conference. Sometimes those conference fees include a meal or two, but often they don’t.

    The fees also help pay for things like printing the conference program, a conference tote bag (a re-usable canvas bag with the organization logo), and other conference amenities, such as rental of presentation equipment. (Renting laptops, screens, and digital projectors at hotels is hellaexpensive.)

    But you’re right, it is expensive. Some organizations have sliding scales, which charge less for junior faculty and students, but they often charge more to non-academics (apparently on the assumption that they have corporate expense accounts).

  7. Ok open threadiness:

    This from Jezebel: “What the what? Renée Zellweger is not going to gain a bunch of weight for the third Bridget Jones flick? A source says she will wear a fat suit, out of concern about the health effects of quickly putting and then losing 30 lbs.”

    And speaking of Drop Dead Diva and fat-positive TV, did anyone catch Kelly Osbourne on DWTS the other night? Yeah she made some disparaging remarks about her own weight and is on the thin side of in-betweenie, but the girl can dance and is in the top three women with Mya and a bikini model. I hope the narrative doesn’t go the way of Marie Osmond a couple years ago and turn into a redemption story about how Kelly dances off the weight. She is awesome and works what she’s got better than most people on that show.

  8. This is amazing! I will see if I can get something together. I am an academic, and my research area is race, gender and monstrosity in the Renaissance…I think I can put something together with body size (giants? yes!). I’d love to go to this conference, because it sounds like I might actually learn something!

  9. To respond to KP: I am the owner of a “fat” cat who I believe is at his ideal body weight. He is 15 lbs and a monster by most definitions–he’s really long. He barely fits in a cat carrier! But my big-boned kitty, belly and all, is a very healthy cat. Much perkier than either of my childhood pet kitties, whose weight loss always seemed to correspond to health problems.

    I feed my beloved J the exact recommended amount of the exact recommended food, with no table scraps (mostly because they uspet his tummy…not like I’d deny him anything without a good reason), and he gets plenty of water, rest (demonstrably) and exercise. He has a whole house to run in that doesn’t exactly have much furniture blocking his hunting paths (he is an intrepid killer of all bugs, invisible and otherwise, and he mounts a determined assault on his bobbing mouse toy several times a day). I think J is an animal example for the set point. He is his proper weight, vets be damned, and that proper weight is fat.

  10. Ah, yes, the fat pet booga booga. I’ve got two dogs of almost exactly the same weight. One is long and narrow. The other is shorter and muscular. They are both in superb health, and I am always happy when the vet looks them over and says, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

    I look at them as a personal FA reminder. Jasper has a layer of fat under his skin that you can feel when you pet him. He’s sleek and gorgeous. Max doesn’t. He’s sleek and gorgeous. They are both living in perfectly healthy dog bodies and carrying their natural amount of fat and muscle. But if they were women instead of dogs, Max would be acceptable and Jasper wouldn’t. Looking at the two of them, I realize how immensely screwed up that narrow standard is.

    Fortunately, they are The Most Beautiful Dogs On Earth, so people are too stunned by all that pulchritude to comment about the weight disparity. That, or they realize that I’m walking two pit bull mixes and probably should not be pissed off? Anyway.

    Pet Concern Trolls are like every other concern troll out there. They want to make the world conform to their rules, and “concern” for your animal is their excuse for butting in. I say that as the sort of person who always has to restrain herself from yelling at people to get off the grass, there’s a sign, dammit! The judge-y impulse is not an attractive one and is a hell of a lot more about my own concerns and hangups than anyone else’s behavior. It takes some quality self-awareness to keep it under control (ooh, patting self on back.)

  11. Starling, that is so true. It’s a lot of work, suppressing the urge to judge. It’s so much easier to just let one’s opinions fly, especially in the areas of pets and child-raising it seems.

  12. A vet once told me that Moxie was “heavy but not obese” in the *exact* tone that “you’re not fat” dissenters use. Mentally, I was like, “Excuse me but do you troll my blog?”


  13. Since this can be used as an open thread I wanted to bring up something I just read. I’m in college studying to be a teacher, and while reading my education text book, in a chapter about legal issues facing teachers I can across this line, “For health reasons, obesity may be it’s own punishment.” The paragraph then goes on to discuss a gym teacher fired for being 5’7 and 225 pounds, who sued and was rehired because the school couldn’t prove her “girth” affected her ability to perform her job.

    The outcome was fairly positive I supposed, but that original line really fucking pissed me off, and since it’s a discussion based class I intend to bring it up today in class.

  14. @Kristine:
    Yeah, and I think a lot of the impulse is a result of feeling not up to par myself. So, my dogs may be rambunctious, but at least I don’t let them do XYZ, which That Bad Dog Owner did. So I’m closer to okay.

    That seems to me to be the root of a lot of body-shaming, Obesity Epidemic crap. We’re all in non-ideal bodies that are changing and growing older without our consent, and we all feel a little out of control. So easy to say “At least I’m not eating five pizzas a night and burdening health care like that headless fattie on CNN.” So much easier to blame the Other. FA is kind of shorthand for a bigger and more radical idea–that the body you live in is actually acceptable and worthy of celebration. I think that if we ever got to the point where we all believed that, the shaming and discrimination would disappear.

    That’s doubtless a point made eloquently by others in the past, but it was a more recent revelation to me and I’m still kinda basking in it.

  15. This is too funny! I literally was navigating over here, with this URL in my clipboard, all excited about posting it. Very glad to see it’s already up and under discussion. Is anyone planning to be at this conference, or to submit a paper to this panel?
    (This is my first comment here, BTW — I was so excited I got de-lurked….)

  16. I’m an academic and I’ve been to the PCA many times over the last few years. I can say it is a good conference–very friendly and inviting. There are non-academics who present there, plus grad students, plus faculty, plus “independent scholars” and the like. One year the PCA was held in a hotel that had a bikers convention the same week and the bikers liked the conference idea so much they joined and now present papers on bike culture every year. There are papers on American Diners, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Elvis, Madonna, Shakespeare, Gravemarkes, etc. You name it, there is a paper on it. My husband and I will be there for the National Convention which this is a CFP for but I don’t know if I’ll present a paper this year (my husband will, as always).

    There are also regional conventions if you don’t want to travel so far (maybe a Fat Studies panel could be arranged in your area for a regional convention). The conferences move around so they make a good excuse to see a city that I would not otherwise get to visit (I’ve seen Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. this way). Yes, it is expensive. You pay your own way unless you are lucky enough to have a school do so. They do have “independent scholar” and “student” rates so those are slightly cheaper. If you find a cheap hotel nearby, you don’t have to stay at the conference hotel. Our group (usually has about 12 panels on our topic) usually has dinner together each night. Some people come every year to our little group and then there are new people. It’s a yearly outing to see like-minded friends.

    It would be fun if a Shapeling group got together there.

  17. PCA! PCA! PCA!

    Sorry, I got carried away. I presented a paper for the first time at this conference…and not only was it lovely to meet Fat Studies folks and see the wonderful range of work that is happening in the US and abroad, the conference was also just an eclectic mix of fun and weird academic interests. As a presenter, you can go to any session, so I explored stuff in health/medicine, romance novels, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cemeteries, music…and that just scratches the surface.

    As for the fat pet issue – to me its an amazing microcosm of size diversity in all species. My parents have 2 cats, one is Max (named before he became large) and the other Jackson. Jackson is a big cat, but lean and a hunter. Max is a big, fat cat. One issue that they did discover is that the food that Max was getting didn’t have a high enough protein/carbohydrate balance for his metabolism, and he stopped eating all the time when they changed his food, but he is still a fat cat. He’s very happy and quite content, so I agree that if that’s the case, why do we worry?

  18. @Starling
    I do that too, especially when it comes to my dog. The “at least I’m not X”. It’s really dangerous when you seek personal validation in what society deems are the shortcomings of others. One of the many things I recognise in myself and am working to eradicate.

  19. My pets are like the poster children of intuitive eating, I suppose. The food bowl is always full, and they eat whenever they want. They are totally healthy and happy cats. They’re also not even close to being fat cats, but even if they were, their overall health means I wouldn’t be concerned. My dogs are the same way; actually, the ‘alpha dog’ (the smaller of the two) is really skinny, but he always gets to eat first (not by any action on my part, that’s just how the two dogs negotiate things I guess.) So again, because he’s pretty much healthy, I don’t worry about his weight. They eat what they need, why worry?

  20. Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for the post. I was kicking around a sermon idea about those Christian-based diet books/movements (some seriously scary stuff theologically, socially, and nutritionally speaking), but I’m a Unitarian Universalists, so it would just be fundie-watching and not really applicable to that audience, HOWEVER a paper on that topic would be perfect.

    So, thanks again!


  21. Oh, just to be clear, I wouldn’t posit someone else’s diet book as good verses the fundie diet books as simply bad diet books! I’m just interested in how the books tap into already dangerous/unhealthy theological impulses to guilt/shame women (and men) into some kind of “creator-certified” frame. No diet advocated here.


  22. @theKP –

    I just started researching greyhounds last night! I read a throwaway line somewhere on the vast internet about them having a tendency to do that full body rub/lean that cats (and dogs, to a certain extent) do and that piqued my curiosity. A long-limbed spider dog who is a big puddle of gooey love and a couch potato to boot? I now want one desperately, but doggie ownership is, sadly, at least several years away. I am so envious and I hope you’re getting lots of sloppy kisses!

  23. My vet got caught up in the nonsense about fat pets – we butted heads over it every visit for awhile – but this year she’s backed down from it for dogs and abandoned it altogether for cats. Which is excellent. Most of the data used in support of the pet fat panic is derived from dogs, and it’s really … steamed my spuds, that it’s been applied willy-nilly to cats, whose needs and vulnerabilities are markedly different.

    Now, if I could just get her to take down that stupid 3-D chart from Purina, the one with rib-ripples on the dog and cat … I fucking hate that thing. The leanness they’re promoting in part with that is extreme; yes, there are some animals, and some breeds, who are naturally that lean but for most healthy cats and dogs … the ribs won’t be that easily palpable, let alone throw shadows. Heck, my Sphynx kitty recently lost a lot of weight due to malabsorption – he’s gained it back now with meds for what proved to be IBD – and even when he was painfully thin, with hollowed hips and a backbone like a mountain ridge, his ribs didn’t show. On a hairless cat. I can’t think of a better illustration for why that chart is utter bullshit.

  24. @lucizoe: Greyhounds are totally the best! They really are like giant, gentle cats. They lean on you to give you a hug, and rub their head against you to get scritches. Mine tries to do that to everyone on the street in the hopes that they’ll give him some love. And you actually don’t have to have a backyard or tons of room in your apartment if you’re willing to walk them. He’s totally a couch potato and spends most of the day sleeping on his bed. We went to several of our local rescue group’s meet and greets before deciding to take the plunge, and all of the dogs have been super sweet and cuddly. And their fur is really, really soft, which I hadn’t expected. I totally love him.

    @Eucritta: I hate that chart, too!

  25. My husband grew up with rescue greyhounds. They range from shy (usually when you first bring them home from the rescue organization) to lovey dovey, and they do have some catlike habits.

    Greyhounds are really pretty. Soft ears, pretty eyes and noses–just gorgeous.

    I’m a confirmed cat person, and I approve of the grooming habits of greyhounds. They are also not big barkers or jumpers thanks to the track training. However, in my experience they’re also not good off-leash walkers, tending to get distracted and run off. That may just be the two individuals I’ve taken for walks, and I’m a really bad dog walker, though I try when I’m at my husband’s parents’ house to make friends with the doggies.

    However, they are not necessarily good with cats–they have to be tested out, because some of them have a really strong prey drive.

  26. OT: There are dicks on the ning site. Actual dicks, possibly just one dick, but there are multiple photos. Just posting here in case anyone who can make them disappear will read this comment before my tweet.

    So glad I checked it at work. Good thing I quit already.

  27. PCA takes basically everything – unlike other conferences where you have to get reviewed to get in, they’ll take pretty much anyone with a pulse. It’s a good and bad conference because it’s so big – there are so many panels there is always something going on, but then you can burn out fast and get overwhelmed.

    I also have to say from my experience at PCA last spring, the Fat Studies people weren’t terribly welcoming. Approaching any of the speakers, I got a cold shoulder and a lot of “Don’t you see I’m talking to my friends?” looks. It wasn’t pleasant and really put me off trying to get involved in this area of scholarship even as a reader/audience member. If the area is going to grow, the people involved might want to make a more concerted effort to reach out to other scholars.

  28. PCA/ACA! I presented my first paper (on context in the archive) there a couple years ago when it was in ABQ! I really enjoyed the conference – I was a grad student at the time and was not intending to get a Ph.D. so I was a somewhat atypical academic, but I was certainly made to feel welcome. Also, I think they are making a tradition out of the Buffy Musical sing-along, so Buffy fans, take notice!

  29. <— I'm the mum of a fat kitty cat. (He also has a 'pleasingly plump' sister.)

    I also practice intuitive eating with them; they 'free feed' dry food throughout the day. Unfortunately, we haven't really been able to get them interested in wet food or 'people food'; the smaller one will eat a bit of olive oil mixed in damp food, but it's the big guy I worry about, because he has dry skin and dandruff, probably aggravated by not getting enough fat in his diet (ironically enough), and he won't eat anything but his crunchies. We practice natural home healthcare, not professional vet treatment, so no one's made his weight an issue. Dry skin aside, he's a super happy, loving, crazy, strong, playful kitty.

    I've found myself explaining the probable origins of increasing cat and dog weights (if this is indeed occurring) to people many times. It is my impression that a much higher percentage of companion animals today are shelter adoptees (versus breeder/petstore-bought animals) than in the past. If a young animal (post-birth or fetal) is exposed to food restriction, as pretty much all stray cats are, their metabolisms are going to adapt to be energy-conserving; the same phenomena occurs in human fetuses/babies who are food-restricted, and have a higher chance of growing into fat adults. So, obviously, more companion animals who began life on the streets will equal more animals who grow into fat adults when exposed to adequate food supplies. Naturally, this doesn't mean that they have an actual decreased need for nutrients and food intake, and enforced 'diets' for cats can be extremely damaging to the liver, as well as not supplying enough vitamins, mineral, and calories for good health.

  30. FWIW, I’ve been involved with the PCA/ACA, and they are not only for-real organizations that study the culture of here and now, but they are also a bunch of really cool and helpful people. I did a presentation with them once, and actually had fun. I had to compete with a discussion of microbreweries (complete withe beer samples), but I had a great time going to the conference and doing my presentation anyway. And I totally understood the low turnout to my presentation — who can compete with free beer?

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