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Focusing on fatness

“We’ve ran out of seats. What a great problem to have,” Jess Myers, Director of UMBC’s Women’s Center, said as she looked into her lounge full of students.

For the past twenty five years, the Women’s Center at UMBC has been committed to advancing gender equity and inclusion across campus, by creating authentic dialogues between students and faculty. Since the beginning, the Center has hosted a variety of workshops and events in hopes to empower students of all races, sexualities and backgrounds. The Center also supports longer term projects such as Spectrum and the Women of Color Coalition.

One of the center’s larger projects, a roundtable series titled “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” concluded this past Wednesday. Rounding out the series, the Women’s Center presented “Fatness in Focus,” a panel discussion focusing on fatness from a feminist perspective and its intersections with an individual’s identity and the social injustices that may result.

Students of all sizes, races, genders, and hair colors (most with natural colors, some with the occasional turquoise highlight, some with flaming red curls) gathered in the narrowing Women’s Lounge. Even without the various talks and events the Women’s Center hosts, the space speaks for empowerment of all genders and races, with posters of Anita Hill and metal chairs decorated by visitors.

Sandwiched between two student facilitators under a tapestry sketched with different translations of the word trend (furthering the center’s pursuit for racial inclusion), a panel comprised of two Gender and Women’s Studies professors, Kate Drabinski and Doctor Mejdulene Shomali, and Daniel Willey, a member of the Women’s Center staff.

Throughout the chat, the panel talked to the semicircle of undergraduate students, many attending for extra credit, about fat studies, the social and intercultural perceptions of fatness and what the term “fatness” actually means.

“This is a pretty great turnout,” Drabinski said. She started the discussion off with an insight to one of the courses she teaches, Unruly Bodies, where students discuss how the built environment illustrates how a body should be.

“Think about how you’re sitting right now, in the chair you’re sitting. Anyone uncomfortable?” Drabinski said. “Take the desks that you sit on during lecture, what do they tell you about bodies? They’re saying the proper body should be small, right-handed, have short legs and didn’t bring anything with it, which can cause discomfort for some.”

From there, Shomali segued into fatness as an intersectional study that raises questions of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender identification. She shared a personal account about her time abroad in Palestine.

“I’m Palestinian; my family’s Palestinian. We visited Palestine one summer, and I went into this shop, and someone asked me, ‘are you a Palestinian from Israel?’ I said ‘no,’ explaining to her that I was from America,” Shomali said.  “The reason this person asked me that question was because parts of my body don’t code as an authentic Palestinian. In my opinion, that has to do with the fact that I have piercings and largely with that I am fat.”

While this was the final roundtable of the semester, be sure to look out for more of the center’s events on their website and myUMBC.