2023 Rose Olver Prize Winner

Melanie Schwimmer

Melanie Schwimmer '23

“Without fat girls, there would be no protests:” Fat Liberation and American Feminist Movement Politics

Department of American Studies Honors Thesis

Abstract: “Without fat girls, there would be no protests.” When Ann Coulter penned this tweet days after President Trump’s electoral college win in 2016, she joined in the long legacy of anti-fat attacks on American political protesters. Historically, when women fought to take up more space in the American socio-political sphere, people turned to antifat postcards, posters, and messages to undermine their efforts. Taking Coulter’s comment seriously, I trace the creation of fat liberation as a reaction to anti-fatness within and regarding civil rights protests. In Part I: Building Fat Liberation, 1967-1979, I investigate how fat liberation as theory and praxis originated in relationship with anti-fatness, feminism, and civil rights movements in the 1970s. I found that as fat liberation and feminism interacted with each other, fat liberation was increasingly flexible in incorporating feminism into its tenets, while feminism lagged behind in incorporating fat liberation. In Part II: They Are Trying to Kill Us, Antifatness and the 21st Century, I explore three case studies where anti-fatness appeared in response to large protest movements--Charlottesville, abortion access post-Dobbs, and the growth of queer rights. These contemporary case studies demonstrate how anti-fatness upholds heterosexism, racism, and sexism. My thesis reveals the necessity for feminism--and other rights-claiming movements--to adopt fat liberation, or risk being aligned with larger systems of oppression that they are attempting to fight.