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By L. Anne Newell
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 25, 1997

Women's studies professor speaks about weighty issues


Adam F. Jarrold
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Myra Dinnerstein, women's studies professor, illustrates her point about the stereotypes of fat women in the professional workplace with an example of Barbara Bush. A woman's magazine showed Bush in her then-present state and a "better" version who is slimmer.

"Inside every thin woman is a fat woman she is terrified to let out," a UA professor yesterday told a group of about 250 people at a lunchtime speech at Gallagher Theatre.

The play on the popular phrase was part of a speech entitled, "Resisting Stereotypes: Fat Women and Professional Careers," given by Myra Dinnerstein, a professor in the Women's Studies Department.

Dinnerstein presented the speech as part of a book she is writing on fat women who are successful professional women, she said. For the book she interviewed and studied more than 50 overweight women.

"I want to give people an idea about what it is to live as a fat woman in a fat-phobic world," she said before the speech, adding she wants people to know how overweight women manage their bodies in the workplace.

Dinnerstein, who has authored two previous books and began the women's studies programs at the UA, said her goal is to bring fat women out of the shadows and into public discourse.

She said the denigration of fat women is a form of social control over all women, from the slim figured Kate Moss models to overweight performers such as Oprah Winfrey, but fat women have the hardest time coping in the workplace, she said.

She said overweight women have developed several strategies to deal with problems in the workplace, including special attention to appearance, a heightened visualization of the physical world, an overemphasis on 'normal' actions and an advantageous use of stereotypes.

She said the women she studied arrive early for meetings to find comfortable chairs, eat meals before business lunches so their appetite appears smaller, and make use of stereotypes such as the 'funny fat woman' to appear more socially acceptable.

But they do it alone, Dinnerstein said. She said the lack of sisterhood between fat women is "one of the saddest things" she has encountered.

Audience members said they enjoyed the speech and the subsequent question and answer session.

Women's studies senior Melissa Meister said she enjoyed the topic, adding, "It's really interesting how sensitivity about their [overweight women's] bodies extends into the space around them."

Kimber Innecken, a women's studies graduate, said, "I enjoyed it and agreed with a lot she said."

"Coming from a person who has been a thin person and a fat person, there are different stereotypes for both types of women," she said, "But there are just as many attached to thin women."

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