History instructor writes book on women’s body image

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Her dissertation research studied a “harmful” quest for perfection.

By V. Finster


History Instructor Amelia Serafine, is writing a book, “Chew the Fat: Women, Size, and Community in America.”

The book will be published by New York University Press in 2020 and covers women organizing communities such as Weight Watchers, that focus around issues of body size, from 1945-1990s.

Serafine’s book expands on her dissertation, “Let’s Get Together and Chew the Fat”: Women, Size, and Community in Modern America.

She wrote the dissertation as part of the requirement for a Ph.D. in history from Loyola University in 2017.

Serafine said she chose this topic because body image affects men and women differently, and she wants to encourage health and wellness at any size.

Serafine used the new term “thigh gap” as an example of how popular culture is constantly creating new issues surrounding women’s bodies.

“This quest for perfection is especially harmful to women — all bodies are beach bodies,” she said. “Just take your body to the beach.”

She began her dissertation from a quote from “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective in 1984:

“In many cultures and historical periods, women have been proud to be large — being fat was a sign of fertility, of prosperity, of the ability to survive … fat activists suggest that making women afraid to be fat is a form of social control. Fear of fat keeps women preoccupied, robs us of our pride and energy, keeps us from taking up space.”

Serafine’s dissertation investigates four communities, Take off Pounds Sensibly, Overeaters Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and the Fat Liberation, and their attempts to claim agency over women’s bodies.

“This quest for perfection is especially harmful to women,” Serafine said Sept. 19 in an interview.

Upon publication of the book, she plans to have speakers come to this college to engage students in conversation about body size to help people think about their own relationship with their bodies.

Her colleague, history Instructor Suraya Khan said, “I think this is a topic that can resonate with people.”

Khan said she drives past a local plastic surgeon’s billboards daily.

She said over the summer the advertisements were geared specifically toward beach wear, telling women to trade in their two piece (fried chicken), for a two-piece (bikini).

She said Serafine’s work addresses that perspective.

History Instructor Amelia Serafine holds up a “We are all Wonder Women!” sign Sept. 19 in her office in Chance. Serafine is writing a book ”Chew the Fat: Women, Size, and Community in America” chronicling women organizing around issues of body size from the mid 1940s-1990s. V. Finster

Serafine, who didn’t finish high school, earned a GED diploma as a single mom.

She began her collegiate journey at Allegheny County Community College in 2000 with a 6-month-old son and transferred to the University of Pittsburgh in 2002 to pursue a bachelor of arts in history.

She earned a master’s degree at Loyola University before the Ph.D.

Serafine said teachers in the community college taught students as if they were already at a four-year institution.

“That was really powerful to be treated like I was there for a reason,” she said.

Serafine said it had been her goal to teach at a community college.

“I had very transformative, very powerful experiences there. It’s like a home; you want to come back to it,” she said.

Before joining the faculty in the spring, Serafine taught world, European and Catholic history as an adjunct at the University of Wisconsin.

Visit https://ecommons.luc.edu/luc_diss/2852/ to view a synopsis on Serafine’s dissertation, available for download.


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