By Wade Stephens
A famous Beatle once uttered this truism: “[T]hey’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years. Then they expect you to pick a career.”
Such a point of crisis is nothing new to university students, but it is to those whose degrees are now coming to a close.
We all know it’s a big bad world out there, and we’re supposed to be doing what we love. That’s why we’re at university in the first place, isn’t it?
Perhaps we’re no longer as certain of our decision as we first thought…
Well if you think you’re heading in the wrong direction, don’t give up hope. Time is a deceiver.
I recently met a lady who’d been having the same trouble at uni; she liked what she was doing, somewhat, but felt it wasn’t directed to her most prominent areas of interest. Jackie Wykes, now a postgraduate student in Melbourne, had always considered herself a little, shall we say, portly.
“I was studying at the late lamented School of Creative Arts at the University of Melbourne,” Jackie reflected.
“I majored in Media Theory…I’m now in the Cinema and Cultural Studies program.”
Jackie was unsatisfied with her first degree, and it was only towards the end of her new degree she found something which suited her ‘unusual’ interests. You see, Jackie is interested in…fat.
“A lot of the subjects I studied in my (second) undergrad talked about ‘the body’ and the idea that subjectivity was at least partially formed through embodiment,” Jackie explained.
“We looked at gender a lot, and at race and class and ability and age, but size was never mentioned, except to talk about the imperative of thinness.
“I knew that bodies mattered, but bodies like mine weren’t really talked about even in theory about ‘the body’.”
After seven years, Jackie knew she’d found her calling, and an unusual one at that. Due to complete her PhD at the end of the year, Jackie has carved her way into a rapidly emerging field of academia. It’s called ‘Fat Studies’, and it’s more popular than you’d think.
“It kind of started around the late 1990s, early 2000s, pretty much as a response to the growing hysteria about the obesity epidemic,” Jackie said.
“[T]he general impetus is to critically interrogate and denaturalise ideas and assumptions about fatness, fat bodies and fat subjects.
“It’s definitely come about in response to the media hysteria, and medical hysteria about fatness.”
Along with her studies, Jackie spearheads several unique fat activist projects, including a fat synchronised swimming team
Aquaporko, Melbourne’s first fat burlesque group Va-Va-Boombah, and even the fat association ‘Chub Republic’. Jackie says the inspiration for these projects is to challenge and intervene in some of the assumptions commonly made about overweight people.
“Synchronised swimming is supposed to be beautiful and elegant and feminine, which are things that fat women are told we can’t be, so it challenges a whole load of those ideas,” explained Jackie.
Despite Jackie and her colleagues’ intentions, the media criticised ‘Fat Studies’ at a recent conference, claiming it misguidedly promotes obesity. Jackie, surprised by the attention the conference was given, understands it’s easy to fault a new discipline.
“There is a relationship between fat activism and fat studies, but they’re definitely not the same thing,” Jackie conferred.
“Besides, I don’t think fat activism is about promoting obesity at all, I think that’s a ridiculous notion.”
She says the field of study and her activist projects are about community building, providing an outlet for people who are, as Jackie puts it, commonly “the brunt of the joke.”Jackie’s journey into a degree well within its teething stages was a bold move, but one she hasn’t looked back on.
“It’s very much interdisciplinary,” Jackie assured me.
“[O]n the whole it’s been an incredible experience. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, visit archives, go to conferences, and meet some amazing academics and activists.
“Despite being overwhelmed at times, the opportunity to undertake sustained research on a topic that matters to me is an incredible privilege, and one I’m very glad to have.”