The Right to Be Fat
72 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2012 Last revised: 17 Sep 2012
Date Written: September 12, 2012
Policy discussions on the increasing weight of Americans, portrayed as a problem of monumental and grim outlook, preoccupy public health experts, scientists, economists, and the popular media. In the legal field, however, discussions have tended to focus on whether weight should be a protected category under antidiscrimination law and on cost-benefit models for creating incentives to lose weight. This Article takes a novel approach to thinking about weight in the legal context. First, it maps the diverse ways in which the law is recruited to “the war against obesity,” thus providing an unprecedented account of what it means to be a fat legal subject under current U.S. law. Second, maintaining that the antidiscrimination framework provides a necessary albeit insufficient context for fully capturing the meaning of being fat, it formulates the question of legal regulation of body size as a question of liberty, which is unpacked in terms of autonomy and human dignity. Drawing on the critique of mind-body dualism, and on the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, this Article offers a new framework for understanding the experience of being a fat subject of the law; one that goes beyond the medical conceptualization of body size and addresses the nuanced ways in which body size and shape and ways of eating and moving the body have intimate meanings for legal subjects. Addressing practical dilemmas such as the legitimacy of charging fat passengers for two airplane tickets or whether weight-based employment discrimination should be prohibited, it concludes that if American constitutional law is to remain coherent in its protection of liberty, autonomy, and dignity, it must recognize a right to be of any body size, including the right to be fat.
Keywords: Obesity, Body, Fat, Discrimination, Liberty
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By Naomi Cahn