On the Limitations of the Rhetoric of Beauty: Embracing Ugliness in Contemporary Fat Visual Representations

  • Stefanie Snider


Fat people have historically been seen in Western culture as monstrous, excessive, and dangerous, to themselves and others, because their physical and discursive identities violate the boundaries of cultural tastes. Following a history of other marginalized cultures, including disabled and queer people, one way of disempowering dominant cultural ideologies about fatness is to embrace the allegedly negative identities ascribed to fat people. Yet over more than 40 years of fat and disability activism in the West, beauty has remained for many an ideal toward which to strive. Contemporary fat activism, both radical and assimilationist, focuses largely on “expanding” the definitions of beauty. Fatness, it is often argued, should not be seen as a moral failing, because everyone can be beautiful, even fat people. The fight against fat oppression seems short-sighted when it targets beauty as its goal, however, because the concept of beauty tends to reify mainstream power imbalances and systemic oppressions targeting people of color, disabled people, and fat people. This chapter looks at contemporary self-portraits of fat artists by two photographers, Chicana artist Laura Aguilar and Finnish artist Iiu Susiraja, in order to examine the reasons why a politics of ugliness should be more actively used by fat activism as a strategy for queering mainstream cultural norms. This analysis builds upon work by scholars and activists in Art History, Fat Studies, and Disability Studies who have embraced notions of the mundane, the abnormal, and the ugly as non-pathologizing ways of considering representations of fat, queer, and crip bodies.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefanie Snider
    • 1
  1. 1.Art History, Kendall College of Art and DesignFerris State UniversityGrand RapidsUSA

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