Throwing their weight around: a critical examination of faculty experiences with challenging dominant obesity discourse in post-secondary education
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Obesity discourse is dominant in mainstream Western society, and is increasingly identified as a social category that normalizes, privileges, and praises certain bodies while stigmatizing others. Given that weight-based stigma has been shown to have harmful consequences, addressing and employing teaching strategies that address this social justice issue is, therefore, of utmost importance. This research investigates the academic experiences, philosophical perspectives, and pedagogical approaches of twenty-six post-secondary faculty members in social sciences, humanities, health sciences, behavioural sciences, and education who are known for challenging dominant obesity discourse in their teaching. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews and relevant course materials submitted by each participant (course syllabi, Power Point presentations, workshop materials, and academic papers). Qualitative data analysis and reporting techniques were employed within a critical fat studies, framework to explore the experiences, perspectives, and approaches of all participants. Analysis indicates that fat oppression within academic institutions is prevalent and that working to address this social justice issue is complex. Participants drew specific attention to how bodies are read within their university classrooms in the context of contemporary dominant obesity discourse. They highlighted how their academic careers are being influenced by size privilege and fat oppression within their post-secondary institutions. Lastly, participants shared various pedagogical approaches and teaching practices they have employed in the classroom that aimed to disrupt the reproduction, legitimization, and promotion of biomedical obesity narratives and offer alternative perspectives around fatness. This research concludes that combining critical fat studies and educational research is generative for understanding and addressing fat oppression within higher education.