Westminster Sociology Open Talks 2017-18 brings together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the first talk of the academic year, Dr Francis Ray White is joined by Dr Samantha Murray from the University of New South Wales to discuss questions around fat embodiment in relation to trans experience and weight loss surgery.

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More about the talks

Choice or Assent? The Neoliberal Subject and/of Weight Loss Surgeries – Dr Samantha Murray, University of New South Wales
In the midst of a global ‘obesity epidemic’, where dieting regimes and pharmacological solutions have failed as curative therapies, bariatric (weight loss) surgeries have been held out as the ‘gold standard’ in treating clinically determined morbid obesity (Faccio et al., 2016). However, despite the categorisation of obesity as a disease, the individualist politics that defines our neoliberal context continues to position fat subjects as personally responsible for their ‘affliction’, via their unmanaged excesses.

Against this backdrop, over the last decade, there has been a massive increase in the number of weight loss surgeries (WLS) carried out, often as elective procedures (Drew, 2011; Angrisani et al., 2015). However, the ‘choice’ to undergo these surgeries can be experienced as ‘assent’, rather than ‘consent’, and further, the lifelong management of post-WLS embodiment remains invisible. In other words, the medico-cultural value of weight loss overshadows the complexities attendant on the allegedly simple ‘choice’ to undergo bariatric surgery and live a fat-free life.

Drawing on an autoethnography of WLS, Dr Samantha Murray offers a phenomenological account of the problematic lived (dis)connections between health and bodily appearance in obesity treatment protocols, and the role of ‘choice’ in neoliberal medicine.

Backrolls Vs Gender Roles: The Fat/Trans Intersection – Dr Francis Ray White, University of Westminster
Critical thinking around fat and transgender has thus far existed in largely separate spheres and each remains ignorant of the others’ insights. This has resulted in a failure to account for the embodied experiences of people who are both fat and trans. This talk will focus on the medical gate-keeping around gender reassignment surgeries for trans people in terms of the weight restrictions imposed on candidates and the assumption that they can, and will, lose weight in order to access surgeries.

This example raises key issues around the ‘malleability’ of the body, specifically the tensions between transgender activism predicated on the idea of the body’s inherent malleability, and fat activism that has politically insisted on the body’s non-malleability and its right to exist as fat. Caught between these conflicting approaches, fat trans people have often been excluded by both sides.

In asking questions about how fat activism can help challenge fatphobia in trans communities, and how fatness shapes the experience of being trans in both everyday incidences of passing/misgendering and in interactions with healthcare professionals and gender identity clinics, this talk will attempt to move beyond existing approaches and imagine new ways of thinking the fat/trans intersection.