Fake Professor: Fat Women Bigger Threat to Patriarchy Because They 'Physically Take Up More Space'

Melissa Zimdars argues America is the 'source of spreading fatness' in dissertation

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March 14, 2017

Fake professor Melissa Zimdars argued that fat women are a bigger threat to the male patriarchy because they "physically take up more space."

Zimdars, an assistant professor at Merrimack College who featured the Washington Free Beacon as "propaganda" on her list of "fake news," wrote her doctoral dissertation on fat people and television.

The dissertation, "Weight watching: television, fatness, and the obesity epidemic," was published in May 2015, for Zimdars's Ph.D. in "Communication Studies" from the University of Iowa.

Zimdars's liberal views are evident in the dissertation. In her chapter "What's wrong with fat?" Zimdars argues that being thin is "privileged," like being a white male.

"Like many identity categories, such as gender, race, or ethnicity, being fat marks one as 'Other' and becomes a way of maintaining social hierarchies and power for some groups at the expense of others," Zimdars writes. "More specifically, like maleness or whiteness, thinness becomes the default, privileged category, while fatness is marked as oppositional to that normative or idealized body size."

Zimdars then contends that fat women are "threatening" to the male-dominated patriarchy because they literally take up more space in a room.

"In patriarchal society, women are often denied space, power, and visibility (Brown 1989, 63), and fat bodies inherently transgress those norms as they physically take up more space and are therefore more visible, which implicitly makes fat female bodies appear more powerful and more threatening to patriarchal power hierarchies," Zimdars writes.

Zimdars also argues that women are concerned about their bodies because societal issues like global warming and terrorism are "too big and complicated."

"There are several potential explanations as to why women's bodies are being positioned as sites of struggle for control," Zimdars writes. "On one hand, Susan Bordo (1993, 140) suggests that women may try to correct 'problems' they perceive to be within their control like body size and shape due to feeling too helpless to 'tackle global or social problems that seem too big and complicated to have any hope of bringing about change, like the arms race, terrorism, environmental degradation, or global warming.'"

"On the other hand, the focus on the body is another way in which women's 'inferiority' can be established in the face of increasing gains intellectually, economically, politically, and socially in terms of power and equality (Hartley 2001, 62)," Zimdars continues. "These differing conceptions both position the body as the only site where individual women can exert control, and as one of the last places in which control and power can be exerted on women."

Later in the dissertation, Zimdars also quotes a fat expert who says that the American Dream is a "fabrication."

"In addition to resisting gendered norms, fat bodies also challenge fundamental social and political logic," Zimdars writes. "According to Kathleen LeBesco (2004, 56), 'a fat person makes the ultimate bad citizen in that she or he reveals the American Dream for what it is: a fabrication.'"

The argument is the American Dream is unattainable for fat people because they cannot "get what they want," which is to lose weight.

"The characterization of fat bodies as lazy also supports the way they inherently challenge and threaten rhetoric of the American Dream," Zimdars writes. "Not only can people not have whatever they want, but not every individual is successfully 'productive'—in this case 'productive' in producing a normative body—even if they have the desire to do so or work hard to do so."

Zimdars does not note reports that obesity rates rise as poor countries get richer.

The dissertation also argues that America is the "source of spreading fatness" around the world.

Zimdars's dissertation explores television shows such as Mike and Molly and The Biggest Loser to map and analyze the "relationship between representations of fatness on television." Another research goal of the dissertation was to try to "better understand fatness on television and the body itself as a site of discursive struggle."

"Theories of intersectionality" are also discussed as a need to understand how different fat people experience being fat in different cities.

"At the very least, instances of fat visibility throughout television's history helped in opening up a discursive space for the greater frequency of fat representations and weight narratives on television today," Zimdars writes.

"Discursive" and "discursivity" appear in the dissertation 24 times.

Zimdars writes that there is a "growing academic field of Fat Studies," but still a "limited amount of scholarship at the intersection of fat studies and media studies, and an even smaller amount examining televised fatness."

"This project only begins to scratch the surface of the relationship between television and fatness," Zimdars concludes in her "final thoughts" chapter.

The dissertation concludes that there are many different types of fat TV: "As this project hopefully demonstrates, fat television exists in multiple forms and offers multiple messages about the body, both within the series themselves and across them."

Zimdars adds that future research is needed to determine if people who "watch The Biggest Loser also watch Curvy Girls."

While working on her Ph.D., Zimdars taught a TV criticism course at the University of Iowa in the Communications Department.

Though Zimdars has an overall positive rating on Rate My Professor, she received several negative reviews from students who said her class was "awful."

One student said she "treats you like a middle schooler." "She seems cool at first but I grew to hate this class, I wouldn't recommend her," the student said.

"I thought the class was going to be interesting but Melissa totally killed it," said another. "She is a terrible spastic teacher who goes off on random tangents that get distracting to the class. I would recommend the class just not with her."