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Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  1,629 ratings  ·  269 reviews
In her first book, sociologist Strings (sociology, Univ. of California, Irvine) explores the historical development of prothin, antifat ideologies deployed in support of Western, patriarchal white supremacy. Beginning in the aesthetic ideals circulated by Renaissance thinkers and artists and bringing her narrative up into the 1990s, Strings charts how white Europeans and A ...more
Paperback, 283 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by New York University Press
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Alok Vaid-Menon
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: beauty-fashion
Strings’s book is an urgent and compelling work not just for conversations around fatphobia, but for the idea of race more generally. Many are taught that racial difference is a matter of “biological truth,” but actually what scholars like Strings show is that race is a social construction. Different attributes are exaggerated + diminished in order to create the mirage that racial difference is a fact, not actually a series of political decisions.

Most often we think of race as skin color, but E
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thorough and accessible book about how fatphobia originated from anti-Black racism. I feel like a lot of body positivity and anti-fatphobia movements in the United States focus on the experiences of white women, so I appreciate Sabrina Strings for providing such a robust analysis of fatphobia’s anti-Black underpinnings that integrates historical, textual, and scientific investigation. Strings highlights how even though people at one point in history perceived fat women as attractive, later on ...more
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars -- Wow. This has given me so much to mull over. I would describe this as an intellectual history of ideas, with the ideas in question being the aesthetic ideals around fatness in European & American culture and how those ideas came to be rooted in racism towards non-white people. While the writing itself is going to be a little dry for some people's taste (like, I wouldn't describe this as narrative nonfiction or as nonfiction that is attempting to have an elevated prose style), I thin ...more
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fearing the Black Body traces the origins of fat phobia and unpacks how it is grounded in racist and eugenicist ideas. It's very well researched and offers a great deal of interesting, thought-provoking information that really should inform how we think about race, health, and fatness.

For instance, we get a history of the BMI tables which originated in a study by a eugenicist that looked only at white bodies, and primarily those of white men, and were then adapted into actuarial tables by life
Ross Blocher
Jul 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia contains many interesting stories about historic, artistic, aesthetic, religious and medical views of the "ideal" human [usually female] body, but I'm not sure the examples presented actually add up to the book's stated conclusion. It can be dry reading - large swaths read more like a term paper than a book for popular audiences. From the introduction: "I used two comparative historical methods: process tracing and historical narrative. In ...more
A fascinating book, Fearing the Black Body explores how fatness became linked to Blackness in Western popular discourse from the sixteenth century onwards, and how intersecting racial, gender, and religious (primarily Protestant) structures shaped discourses about fat phobia and thin fetishism in nineteenth and twentieth century America. Sabrina Strings does an excellent job of deconstructing medical discourses about weight which are often understood as neutral and evidence-based but often are a ...more
IquoImoh Terry
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A must read especially in our present time. When will we stop seeing the black body as something to be feared but one to be uplifted. This book is one that I will recommend for my book club.
Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore
3.5 stars

Sabrina String's, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia looks at the historical evolution of body and beauty standards and how they coincide with the degradation of Blackness. String unpacks the inherent racism behind notions such as the aesthetic hierarchy and challenges standards such as the idea of a "normal weight" which did not originate as a medical phenomena.

I pre-ordered this book and was eagerly awaiting its arrival. The topic and description lured me in
Jul 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
This was informative, but it was quite dry. If history is your jam, you'll be more likely to appreciate and enjoy this, and I'm grateful for the things that I learned (even if I only manage to retain a small fraction of the information), but I'm not sure I would widely recommend it. I also realized while I was nearing the end of the book that I had trouble picking the book back up because it felt like I was being slapped in the face while reading the quotes from letters, magazines, newspapers, a ...more
Aug 02, 2020 rated it liked it
I really wanted more from this book. It was a great series of historical events laid out, but less commentary and analysis than I wanted. From what I understand it was written for academic purposes, so the lack of commentary may be intentional, but I thought it was a missed opportunity for a book that she acknowledges is the first to address this exact subject.
Tassa DeSalada
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read about a hot topic.
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive historiography on the origins of fatphobia in racism, eugenics, and puritanical ideals. By no means a casual read; I would have been interested in hearing more about the implications for the modern world. My main takeaways: BMI is stupid. Dieting (and cornflakes) are anti-sex. White people are real keen on dehumanizing black and brown folks and we need to STOP. Seriously. Capitalism wants to manage, control, and medicalize our bodies (especially women's bodies) and this brand of ...more
Apr 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating!!! I had been meaning to read it having heard it discussed in so many places. I hadn't resisted the idea at all, but just figured I had understood the thesis and arguments from all the podcasts and reviews out there. But it was so much richer and more interesting than I had anticipated. And it's like is there anything at all in our culture that doesn't go back to theories that justified enslavement and exploitation? Certainly not our obsession with thin. I highly recomme ...more
Lucie Simone
I didn’t finish this book. I found it so dry despite the fact I think the subject matter is very important and worthwhile. This just felt like I was reading someone’s PhD dissertation. It was super academic and as a result put me to sleep. As an academic research report, I’m sure it’s top notch. But for the casual reader, I found it hard to get through.

I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.

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 o
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the first hour or two of listening to Fearing the Black Body, I was a little bored by what sounded more like an art history lesson than a deconstruction of race and fatphobia. But chapter by chapter, I discovered a thorough and often surprising history of White supremacy.

Many historical figures in art, religion, medicine, and science have sought ways to maintain White ethnostates. Fatphobia fits into this in ways many people—including myself—wouldn't expect.

During the Trans-Atlantic slave tra
Melissa Kapadia
Apr 23, 2021 rated it it was ok
This book sets out to explain the racial origins of fatphobia, but does not exactly do this. It's challenging at times to tell if the book is actually well-researched because the research and evidence are not always well-handled. In fact, the book is primarily structured as a series of biographies, mostly of White men (with occasional White and Black women thrown in). In addition, and as other reviewers have noted, there is a general lack of analysis, so evidence is provided but connections are ...more
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings is an in-depth exploration of the female body and how it has been racialized + stigmatized for over 200 years. This book gives several accounts of how the body type and size of black women has been marveled at, studied, examined, and ultimately policed by others.

As of late, black women of a certain size have been demonized as a strain on our country's medical resources . Fearing the Black Body provides so much research
Rachel Van Amburgh
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is an incredibly well-researched, thorough, and unflinching critique on the intersections of white supremacy, Christianity, and weight shame. Going all the way back to the Renaissance, Strings describes the emergence of white supremacy and the systematic othering of Black bodies through the growth of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the birth of the idea of Anglo-Saxon supremacy during the Protestant Reformation, and the evolution of Christian temperance to include weight shame (I’m never ea ...more
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Need to reread and annotate in the future when I'm not trying to cram in stuff for a readathon!

The first and last chapters of this book should be essential reading for everyone, and this whole book should be essential reading for all med students too. The correlation of thinness to health and beauty is derivative of white supremacy rather than science, and this book examines this fact from a truly historically and scientifically sound way. Manufactured consent has really left a deep impact on pu
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding examination about fatphobia body size, especially in regard to black women. The author uses primary sources from the history of the United States to draw attention to the ways in which fat women, and fat black women in particular, were and are thought of by white society. Engaging with class, the medical establishment, religion, and education, Strings deftly identifies patterns of thought in America that gave rise to anti-fat stigma and the fear of the fat black woman. I r ...more
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
...I was today years old when I learned that BMI and “ideal weight” calculations were created by insurance companies and statisticians and NOT medical doctors??
Feb 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Thought-provoking and enlightening. Further evidence that white women’s oppression and liberation are tied directly to those of Black women.
Three excerpts (from p. 210-211):
1. “Because women are typically reduced to their bodies, fat stigma has commonly targeted racial/ethnic Other women.”
2. “Discussions about racialized and gendered fat/slender bodies circulated largely in elite white spaces, and among white persons... [which] served as a mechanism for white men and women to denigrate the rac
Erin Carere
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Enlightening and at times infuriating. This book is a more scholarly tracing of the "thin ideal" that has grown to monstrous proportions, if you will pardon the unintended pun. It will be difficult for people who have lived within our diet culture to accept the way pseudo-science and often outright anti-racist statements with zero basis in fact or nature borne out of a need to justify the slave trade became the foundation for so much of our "medical" and scientific studies about weight and healt ...more
Kate Dansette
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley in exchange of an honest review.

This book was a thoroughly research account of how fatphobia (or fatmisia) arose from the othering of African bodies. It's so well written and as well as academics would be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about this fascinating subject. Many illustrations also back up Sabrina's thesis.
Skincare For Introverts
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Is it comprehensive and easy to follow? YES. Is it insightful, well-searched, and deeply educational? YESSSS.

I am so glad I purchased this book, because this is a text that demands to be constantly underlined and highlighted. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
Erica Scoville
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
no tea on this! just starting my thesis proposal 3 months into the summer semester 🥰🥰💋
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I listened to this on audiobook, it was a pretty good read that way if you don't want to annotate (bc you know academic/history audiobooks can be a snooze).. I thought this book was amazing, I learned so much about the racial origins of fatphobia. I honestly think everyone should read or listen to it, bc we have these ubiquitous ideas about fatness that are so harmful and lead to the dehumanization against people. It was illuminating to learn that those ideas were just thought up by white Europe ...more
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This work charts the obsession with the Black Female body in Western society closely linked to racism and eugenics. Thus the bodies of Black people in general and Black Women, in particular, have been seen as less than beautiful, as objects of derision and poor health.

This book includes a good analysis of the fear of the Black body and would be one of my recommendations.
Amanda Reynolds-Gregg
Really fantastic book! Great information and never comes off dry or dull. Maybe it helps that the subject is one I find interesting anyway. I am currently working on a video about fatphobia and every source I came upon referenced this book. I'm so glad I took the time to read it! I highly recommend it for anyone interested in understanding just how much our current fatphobic ideals are descended from racist and inaccurate pseudo science ...more
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Sabrina Strings is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, and a recipient of the Berkeley Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellowship, where she held appointments in the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. ...more

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18 likes · 0 comments
“...the current anti-fat bias in the United States and in much of the West was not born in the medical field. Racial scientific literature since at least the eighteenth century has claimed that fatness was ‘savage’ and ‘black.” 2 likes
“The legacy of Protestant moralism and race science as it related to fat and thin persons loomed large. Indeed, many early to mid-twentieth-century physicians relied on moral and racial logics to rail against persons deemed too fat or too thin. But over time, a growing number did so specifically, and exclusively, to condemn fatness.” 0 likes
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