Fearing the Black Body
The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia
Published by: NYU Press
304 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 41 black and white illustrations
- ISBN: 9781479886753
- Published: May 2019
Winner, 2020 Body and Embodiment Best Publication Award, given by the American Sociological Association
Honorable Mention, 2020 Sociology of Sex and Gender Distinguished Book Award, given by the American Sociological Association
How the female body has been racialized for over two hundred years
There is an obesity epidemic in this country and poor black women are particularly stigmatized as “diseased” and a burden on the public health care system. This is only the most recent incarnation of the fear of fat black women, which Sabrina Strings shows took root more than two hundred years ago.
Strings weaves together an eye-opening historical narrative ranging from the Renaissance to the current moment, analyzing important works of art, newspaper and magazine articles, and scientific literature and medical journals—where fat bodies were once praised—showing that fat phobia, as it relates to black women, did not originate with medical findings, but with the Enlightenment era belief that fatness was evidence of “savagery” and racial inferiority.
The author argues that the contemporary ideal of slenderness is, at its very core, racialized and racist. Indeed, it was not until the early twentieth century, when racialized attitudes against fatness were already entrenched in the culture, that the medical establishment began its crusade against obesity. An important and original work, Fearing the Black Body argues convincingly that fat phobia isn’t about health at all, but rather a means of using the body to validate race, class, and gender prejudice.
Traces centuries of racist pseudoscience up to the 20th century, demonstrating that today’s ideal of thinness is inherently both sexist and racist. ~Colorlines
Strings seeks to illuminate how our current fat phobia is rooted, specifically, in a fear of black women. [She] persuasively shows that ... the link between fatness, racial otherness and, especially, female blackness, looms prominently in the American cultural imagination. ~Times Literary Supplement
A much-needed examination of the racism and colonialism embedded within society’s imagined dangers of fat (black) bodies. ~Library Journal
Fearing the Black Body is a joy to read, smooth and erudite. And it is also a joy to experience, to feel Strings pulling the strands of the historical web closer and closer so that their knots and tangled intersections are clear to see. Most important, though, is the intellectual satisfaction it provides in giving a clear and well-argued convincing rationale for the origins, reach, and astonishing success of a bias whose history, as it had previously been presented, was patchy and inadequate. ~Nursing Clio
In Fearing the Fat Black Body, Sabrina Strings fills what has long been a gaping hole in scholarship on fatness and body size. Her careful historiographical exploration of the racialized roots of anti-fat, pro-thin bias should figure prominently in any academic, medical, political, or popular discussion of the contemporary American 'Obesity Epidemic.' In looking at the complex intersections of race, gender, class, and morality in current American framings of fatness and size, Strings does not simply add race to the conversation but shows that any analysis of body size that does not center race is necessarily incomplete. ~Natalie Boero,Author of Killer Fat: Media, Medicine and Morals in the American Obesity Epidemic
[A] thoroughly researched exploration of the historical relationship between race-and weight-related prejudices...This fascinating and carefully constructed argument persuasively establishes a heretofore unexplored connection between racism and Western standards for body size, making it a worthy contribution to the social sciences. ~Publishers Weekly
Once upon a time, fat bodies were celebrated in art, in newspapers and magazines, and in medical journals, but that all changed during the Enlightenment Era of the 18th century when fatness was purposefully intertwined with the idea that people of color were racially inferior savages. Sabrina Strings’s incredible book analyzes how that shift continued to plague Black women. . . . Fearing the Black Body makes the convincing argument that the thin ideal has always been racist. ~Bitch Media
As a sociologist with a rich understanding of social history and cultural studies, Sabrina Strings asks and answers new and immensely generative questions about the ways of thinking that rule the world. Her astute analyses reveal the ways in which seemingly innocent aesthetic judgments about womens bodies register the effects of deep historical currents of thought and practice. ~George Lipsitz,Author of How Racism Takes Place
This is an important, deeply-researched study of the racialized roots of fat denigration. It should be a must-read for scholars whose work focuses on the history of race, of gender, and of the bodyas well as by anyone who is interested in our deeply problematic contemporary culture of dieting and body shame. ~Amy Erdman Farrell,Author of Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture