I know nothing about “fat camps,” but I have (rather thoughtlessly) simply assumed that they are oppressive places that punish and shame campers in support of a sizest status quo. But, after looking through Lauren Greenfield‘s photographs of kids at a weight-loss camp in the Catskills, NY (here), I’ve started to think differently. The pictures don’t seem to be of oppressed beaten-down kids. Instead, they seem to be having a pretty good time. Greenfield’s captions suggest that these kids feel more comfortable at weight-loss camp than they do in their “real” life because they’re around other people that are, in this important way, just like them. Images show them enjoying things they say they can’t do outside of camp (e.g., wearing a swimsuit), practicing (heterosexual) romance, and learning stuff that is fun or useful (e.g., tae bo, nutrition).
As Gwen pointed out, my critique of weight-loss camps was based on the idea that fat-shaming was more intense at weight-loss camp than it was elsewhere. If you think about it much, this is obviously false. There is plenty of fat-shaming everywhere. At least at camp, kids can potentially achieve a sense of normalcy and some solidarity with one another. So, without suggesting that there is nothing at all problematic about weight-loss camps, these images complicate simple condemnations.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.