Prof fights swimsuit inequality with 'fat fashion pedagogy'

A professor at Washington State University recently pioneered a “fat fashion pedagogy” intervention in her classes to fight “structural inequality” in swimsuit design.  

Debbie Christel, who teaches at Washington State University, wrote about her new teaching method in the new issue of the Fat Studies journal, explaining that she made students do a “swimsuit design project” based on “fat fashion pedagogy.”

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Fat fashion pedagogy, Christel explains, is a teaching method she developed based upon “critical feminist and narrative pedagogies,” which seek to fight fat stigma by “promoting activism to erode the thin-centric orientation” among students.

Applying this feminist ethos to her teaching, Christel made students research and design a series of “plus-size swimsuits for active swimmers” that could eventually become “high-quality, comfortable, affordable swimwear for fat women.”

To design these swimsuits, students conducted interviews with fat women, researched the swimsuit market, designed prototypes, and then presented these “fat fashion” prototypes to the executive board of a local fashion company.

During the progression of the class, students also read 10 articles about issues like “weight bias, thin privilege, and fat studies,” and learned about portrayals of obese people in the media.

[RELATED: 'Fat Studies' course deems 'weightism' a 'social justice issue']

After Christel’s course, she reports that not only did students successfully create plus-sized swimsuits, but that they also became less judgmental and biased towards fat women.

“The outcomes indicate that, through [fat fashion pedagogy], students were successful in challenging and reducing their biases towards fat people and, in the process, produced plus-size swimwear for their fat female clientele,” Christel remarks.

Further, some even became interested in the field of fat fashion, and Christel says two of her students even went on to create plus-sized fashion collections for their senior capstone class.

Notably, while Christel’s research involved undergraduate college students, there is no mention of whether she received Institutional Review Board approval (IRB) before conducting her experiment, which is typically required for research on students.

The Washington State University IRB, which is “responsible for the review and approval of all research activities involving human subjects” did not respond for a request for comment on whether Christel’s research was approved. Neither did WSU, or Christel herself.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen