Friday, August 12, 2011

Size Advocacy: An Inclusive Vision of Justice

Size Advocacy: An Inclusive Vision of Justice

Leah Krandel
New Orleans, LA
It became a question of airline seats.  It always becomes a question about something trivial like airline seats.  I told my fellow graduate social work students, the policy issue about which I care deeply is the inclusion of size as a protected category in anti-discrimination legislation. Immediately, my professor asked, “So, who should pay for the extra airline seat? What if you’re fat and need two seats, who should pay for it?”

“We should all pay for it,” I said.  Immediately, there was an outcry. “Why should I pay more for their bad choices?” etcetera, etcetera, insert comparison between fat people and smokers, here. 

I tried to reason with them.  I tried to explain to my classmates, “everyone’s bodies are just different. Discriminating against fat people is like discriminating against tall people.”  But they would not have it.  Vague, indignant references to “science” abounded- didn’t I know that if people are fat it is a) their own fault b) a choice?

I realize now my mistake.  I should never have engaged in that level of dialogue.  I know, and have supporting research, that fat is often just biology, and that while there are some studies that show a correlation between fat and negative health outcomes, there is not a causal relationship .  Furthermore, there are also studies that show a correlation between fat and positive health outcomes.  But that doesn’t really matter.

“Social workers elevate service to others above self interest…Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people .” Regardless of why people are fat, to allow fat folks to be marginalized and oppressed is a blatant disregard of our social work code of ethics. When we make ourselves the judges of who is “deserving” and “undeserving,” when we attempt to discern who is marginalized “by choice,” a socially just world becomes an impossibility, as does true adherence to our social work code of ethics. 

It is not our job to discern how “deserving” one is of full inclusion and support in our society.  It is our job to be critical of and to challenge a society in which people are thought to be “deserving” or “undeserving” of things such as respect, value, and support. It is our job, furthermore, to create the environment in which everyone can be included.  We are charged with creating a society that acknowledges, we are all different, we are all important, and we all deserve a goddamn seat on the airplane. 

[1] See, for example:

Parker-Pope, T. (August 13, 2008) “For health, body size can be misleading.” The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Solovay, S. and Rothblum, E. (2009) The Fat Studies Reader. New York: New York University

2 National Association of Social Workers. (2008) “Social Work Code of Ethics.” Retrieved from:


  1. You speak to so many related issues with clarity here. I see this daily in my classroom in regard to desk size. Universities continue to provide desks with fixed width, without regard to the students who have to sit in them. In particular, in those classrooms with tiers, and swivel chairs, there is no way anyone other than a size 2 can fit in them.

    It seems to be more about how many people can we cram into a spot than any thought of whether or not those people are entitled to a modicum of comfort after having spent huge sums of money for their seat in the classroom.

    I had not thought of the issue in terms of our values and ethics, and I now do. Thanks for the thoughtful, yet passionate, essay on this issue that gets ignored much of the time.

  2. this is rad! know that even if your classroom is a difficult space, you have love and support outside of that space. thank you for trying to teach and learn with people who make that difficult.

  3. The idea that an entire species needs to fit within a certain size range is ridiculous. So many oppressions are woven into this...certainly racism, sexism and ableism to begin with. They want to blame "poor choices"; what about people who have disabilities that prevent them from exercising? They still have to eat to survive. And blaming them for having disabilities will get us nowhere fast.

    Excellent post. Excellent blog, in general. I decided to start a zine about social work a few days ago, and discovered this project today. Ordinarily I'd be sad that someone beat me to the punch, but this is too awesome. I'm not sure what to contribute yet, but I will be reading, following and submitting : )