Abundantly Invisible: Fat Oppression as a Framework for Sexual Violence Against Women


  • Melissa Fabrizio University of Alberta


Few fat studies scholars have attempted to identify how obesity stigma and fatphobia play a prominent role in rape culture, and how responses to instances of sexual violence differentiate for fat women. Fat women are caught between a dichotomy of being completely undesirable, or a comical object to be fetishized. The result of this dichotomy is that these women are told to be flattered, or even grateful, for any kind of sexual attention they receive, even if that attention is not consensual. The implications of this devastating social issue become even greater when we consider the reality of rape culture. Instances of sexual violence against fat women are not isolated cases, they are representative of an over-arching fatphobic oppression that is engrained into our contemporary society. When fat women are sexually assaulted, there is a common response that they should be thankful for any kind of sexual act they receive, as they are undesirable and thus no one should be sexually interested in them (with the exception of a ‘bizarre’ fetish). This is problematic not only for completely denying fat women sexual agency, but also for implying that rape is somehow a form of “sexual attention”. These dangerous misconceptions are fueled by a fatphobic rhetoric and inflicts an objectification of fat bodies, by implying they aren’t important enough for the violation of them to even be considered an offense.

Recent scholarship in the emerging field of fat studies has yet to identify the systemic issues that lie within the sexual assault of fat women and the responses to these incidents of assault. From a feminist perspective, it is possible to identify the necessity of this type of academic work. Attention to the body, body politics, and control of the body is an important focal point for feminist progression. The following paper aims to map fat women’s experiences in instances of sexual assault. Focusing on the synthesis of sexism and fatphobia as two different social issues, fat bodies will be considered from an assault narrative. Gendered fat oppression will be considered as a framework for systemic sexual violence that affects women. As well, the fetishization of fat bodies will be criticized as a means for furthering the objectification and stigmatization of fat women. The male practice of “hogging”, a practice in which men prey on women they deem fat or unattractive to satisfy sexual desires or compete with their peers, will be exposed and analyzed as a key example of this type of fetishization. Beyond the stranger rape narrative, instances of sexual violence perpetrated by the intimate partners of fat women will be explored and identified as a substantial part of the systemic issue of sexual violence. The construction of the dangerous ideologies that surround the embodiment of fat women will be dissected from a feminist perspective while confronting the fat stigma that has created these ideologies.