Exploring Fat Attitudes | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Exploring Fat Attitudes

What does it mean to be fat? And, moreover, what does it mean to be a woman who is fat?

What does it mean to be fat? And, moreover, what does it mean to be a woman who is fat? In the United States, the word "fat" is not merely descriptive, it has a negative connotation. Women are pressured to be thin and young looking at every age, and those who do not fit this definition of normal, are, for the most part, marginalized.

In "Fat Attitudes: A Celebration of Large Women," curator, artist and TC instructor Lori Don Levan brought together 14 contemporary artists whose work celebrates the beauty of the fat female body. They were chosen to be part of the exhibit because the way they represent female fatness was reflective of the lived experiences of large women.

Levan and one of the artists, Sylvia Netzer, discussed the works at a pre-conference walk-through of the exhibit. Netzer, who represented the only sculptor in the show, said "Doing a fat show was extremely liberating. It was my coming to terms with, ‘This is who I am.'"

While some reactions to Netzer's work were the belief that she was making fun of fat people, she and Devan said that their work was the result of their own experiences.

One photograph of five nude women that appeared in the 10th anniversary issue of the Utne Reader, served as an inspiration to Levan. "My first reaction to this photograph was, ‘My God! How beautiful they are!'" she said. "It took me several minutes to realize, on a conscious level, that the women in the photograph were fat."

That photo, from Laurie Toby Edison's collection of portraits entitled Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes, appeared in the show. Most of the work presented in the show comes from photographers whose work represents various personal projects that overlap with the image of the large female body.

Levan said she didn't want this show to be all about her own work, which had been on display in a show at the Macy Gallery a few years ago in what she called her "coming out party." Though there are some of her own pieces in the show as well.

Speakers at the event included Professors Judith Burton and Graeme Sullivan, some of the artists included in the show, including Laurie Toby Edison, Andi Bray, Christine Berkey, Aimee Cegelka and Meredith Miller, and a number of authors and performing artists.

Published Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2005


More Stories