Fat Rights

Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood

196 pages

March, 2008

ISBN: 9780814748138



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Anna Kirkland is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Michigan. 

All books by Anna Kirkland

Author Interview on The Brian Lehrer Show

America is a weight-obsessed nation. Over the last decade, there's been an explosion of concern in the U.S. about people getting fatter. Plaintiffs are now filing lawsuits arguing that discrimination against fat people should be illegal. Fat Rights asks the first provocative questions that need to be raised about adding weight to lists of currently protected traits like race, gender, and disability. Is body fat an indicator of a character flaw or of incompetence on the job? Does it pose risks or costs to employers they should be allowed to evade? Or is it simply a stigmatized difference that does not bear on the ability to perform most jobs? Could we imagine fatness as part of workplace diversity? Considering fat discrimination prompts us to rethink these basic questions that lawyers, judges, and ordinary citizens ask before a new trait begins to look suitable for antidiscrimination coverage.

Fat Rights draws on little-known legal cases brought by fat citizens as well as significant lawsuits over other forms of bodily difference (such as transgenderism), asking why the boundaries of our antidiscrimination laws rest where they do. Fatness, argues Kirkland, is both similar to and provocatively different from other protected traits, raising long–standing dilemmas in antidiscrimination law into stark relief. Though options for defending difference may be scarce, Kirkland evaluates the available strategies and proposes new ways of navigating this new legal question.

Fat Rights enters the fray of the obesity debate from a new perspective: our inherited civil rights tradition. The scope is broad, covering much more than just weight discrimination and drawing the reader into the larger context of antidiscrimination protections and how they can be justified for a new group.


  • ”Discrimination against the obese is today pervasive and oppressive. The problem will only grow worse as the epidemic of obesity spreads. Kirkland has written the definitive study of obesity within American law. It is required reading for anyone concerned with this issue. This is an admirable and profound book.”

    —Robert Post, Yale Law School

  • “Provides a much-needed conceptual map for making sense of how we in the U.S. talk about difference, discrimination, and rights generally. The result is an imaginative, insightful, savvy, and unusually accessible inquiry that should be required reading for anyone interested in the politics of civil rights. Highly recommended!”

    —Michael McCann, University of Washington

  • “Contributes to the scholarly discussion about the legal meaning of fatness.”

    Law and Politics Book Review

  • “One of the most topical, timely, and engaging books on the market today.”

    LSA Faculty

  • "In her timely and unique study, Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Differance and Personhood, Kirkland places fatness and fat citizens into the frame of the American civil rights tradition. In doing so she provides an important contribution to political and legal debates about rights for fat individuals, the nature of difference, and the role and utility of antidiscrimination law in the United States."

    —Darlene McNaughton, American Journal of Sociology