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Oregon ‘fat positivity’ sex ed workshop: Teachers should ‘center fat bodies’

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A taxpayer-funded workshop for Oregon sex education teachers instructed teachers to embrace fat positivity, explained the “racist origins of fatphobia” and what it means to have “thin privilege.” It also told educators to normalize fat bodies when teaching physiology and anatomy to students.

The Oregon Department of Human Services’s February workshop, presented to teachers under the umbrella of the agency’s My Future My Choice sex ed curriculum, said fat positivity “explicitly affirms fat bodies.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls childhood obesity a “serious problem.”

Chalkboard News obtained the workshop slides from the state agency through a public records request. The event was facilitated by Tory Sparks, a Michigan-based sex educator and social justice consultant, who previously authored a curriculum called the “Queer Sex Ed You Never Got In School,” according to the presentation.

“Fat positivity is one amongst many practices in service of fat justice and fat liberation,” Sparks’ slides explain. “[It] explicitly affirms fat bodies.”

The workshop centered on different approaches to body sizes, “fat oppression and intersectionality,” “fat positivity in sex education” and ways teachers can create fat positivity in their spaces, the workshop agenda reads.

“Fatphobia is pervasive and structural and exists at all levels,” one slide reads.

“Many sex educators and others doing sexual health work and working with youth hold implicit biases towards large bodies and oppressive attitudes about body size and shape,” a slide on reads. “These biases are reflected in sex education and fatphobia can be reproduced in our work without learning, growth, and reflection in this area.”

“For our work to be comprehensive, intersectional, and inclusive, it must be fat-positive,” the slide continues. Intersectionality refers to the understanding that different forms of oppression can stack up on individuals based on different aspects of their identity.

Some slides indicate that instruction for students on healthy living would fall under the category of fatphobia.

“Sex education is often taught in the same context as other health education, including nutrition and fitness education,” one slide reads. “A majority of nutrition and fitness education is fatphobic!”

“Weight stigma is a public health problem and may be responsible for many, perhaps most, of the health problems associated with higher weights,” one slide reads.

Sparks’ presentation also said the word obesity is a slur and said that society stigmatizes weight with most people experiencing “internalized fatphobia.”

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Obesity Prevention Source says obesity is harmful to the nation’s wellbeing.

“Apart from tobacco, there is perhaps no greater harm to the collective health in the U.S. than obesity,” the school’s website reads. “Worldwide, too, obesity’s health effects are deep and vast — and they have a real and lasting impact on communities, on nations, and most importantly, on individuals, today and across future generations.”

The CDC oversees a number of initiatives to reduce the prevalence of obesity by partnering with federally qualified health centers, hospitals and universities.

“Childhood obesity remains a pressing public health concern, affecting nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children,” the CDC’s website reads. “In addition, some groups experience higher rates, such as children from lower-income families.”

Children with obesity are at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, according to a page on obesity risks from the CDC. The health agency also says childhood obesity is associated with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and social problems like bullying and stigma.

The presentation given to Oregon teachers encouraged them be sensitive when talking about weight and that “talking about fatphobia as a system of oppression is important.”

The presentation included a “thin privilege” checklist that includes “being treated for medical conditions without being told that weight loss will solve them” and “the media doesn’t describe/blame your body shape or size as part of an ‘epidemic.’”

The presentation also said diet culture is “white supremacy and colonialism” and described the “racial origins of fatphobia.”

“Racist pseudoscience, eugenics, and Christian hegemony linked fatness to blackness and ungodliness: came under a coherent ideology of fatphobia in the 19th century,” the slide reads, referring to Sabrina Strings’ book “Fearing the Black Body.”

Sparks encouraged educators to not only show all bodies but to “intentionally center fat bodies” in their work, including diagrams for when educators are teaching students about physiology.

“We are reproducing systems of oppression when we are not accurately representing a full diversity of bodies when teaching about bodies,” one slide reads. “This doesn’t mean adding one picture of a fat body after all the thin ones that you teach with. This means using fat bodies as the NORM.”

The presentation included a resource for inclusive and diverse sex education graphics for educators to use in class. It also told educators to use “fat stock photos,” “integrate fat justice” into accountability practices and “use or apply for grant funds to commission charts, diagrams, and other educational materials featuring fat bodies & bodies of color.”

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