Professor Fights Swimsuit Inequality by ‘Promoting Activism to Erode the Thin-Centric Orientation’

Debbie Christel, a professor and researcher at Washington State University, has developed a “fat fashion pedagogy” to combat “structural inequality” in swimsuit design. 

According to her bio, Christel’s “research explores the best design methods for diverse body types– specifically for athletes classified as obese.”

She also “requires each student to complete a project that is designed for the plus size market,” as “she wants to ensure students are talented, compassionate and educated designers.”

Christel wrote about her new teaching method in the latest edition of the Fat Studies journal, where she explains she forces students to participate in a “swimsuit design project” based on “fat fashion pedagogy.”

According to Christel, she based “fat fashion pedagogy” on “critical feminist and narrative pedagogies,” which attempt to fight fat stigma by “promoting activism to erode the thin-centric orientation” among students. 

While applying this feminist ideology into her teaching, Christel made her students research and design “plus-size swimsuits for active swimmers,” with the goal of eventually creating “high-quality, comfortable, affordable swimwear for fat women.”

In her bio, Christel points out that designers “don’t design for the form; they design for the demographic in the market,” making her task for students even more bizarre. 

Campus Reform reports in order to design the swimsuits, students had to conduct interviews with fat women, research the swimsuit market, design “fat fashion” prototypes and present them to executives of a local fashion company. 

The students also had to read 10 articles on issues such as “weight bias, thin privilege, and fat studies,” while learning about the portrayals of fat people in media. 

Christel claims that after her course, students managed to create successful plus-sized swimsuits while becoming less judgemental 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,” the professor says. 

She even claimed students became more interested in the field of fat fashion. 

Campus Reform reports there was no mention of Christel receiving Institutional Review Board approval (IRB) approval for her experiment. Approval is typically needed when research is conducted on students. 

The Washington State University IRB did not respond to a comment request from Campus Reform, nor did the university or Christel. 

Featured Image Via Flickr/Emilian Robert Vicol


Campus Reform