Jump to Main Content
Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto Home| OISE| U of T| Quercus| Site Map | Contact Us | Feeling Distressed?
INSPIRING EDUCATION | oise.utoronto.ca
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

Startling beauty: Disabled and fat figures in art and activism

Dr. Carla Rice

The Centre for Media and Culture in Education (CMCE) at OISE / University of Toronto presents: 

The 2013 - 2014 Works in Progress Seminar Series, Session 1
Friday, October 18, 2013
2 - 4 pm
OISE / University of Toronto
252 Bloor St. West, 12th Floor
(@ St. George Subway Station)
MEK Room, Room #12 - 199
This event is wheelchair accessible.

A presentation by 
Dr. Carla Rice 
Canada Research Chair in Gender, Health, and Relationships
University of Guelph
Eliza Chandler
PhD Candidate
Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education
OISE / University of Toronto

Dr. Carla Rice

This paper develops a body becoming theory of fat that interweaves new materialist with embodied and aesthetic perspectives to break through the stranglehold of obesity discourse and open possibilities for what fat bodies can be and become. Thinking beyond conventional bio-pedagogical interventions that conflate moral and medical values and send evaluative messages about what bodies should be, I theorize a body becoming pedagogy that moves away from enforcing norms toward more creative ways of envisioning possibilities for what they can become. Since in our bean counting, boundary-setting world, this kind of imagining is considered the work of the artist and not within the purview of the psychologist or social scientist, I turn to feminist art practice and aesthetic theory for insight and inspiration in this project. Introducing the work of artists and activists who have attempted to re-signify the aesthetics and abilities of fat flesh, I argue for an inclusive theory of feminist beauty and sensory pleasure similar to those proposed by cultural theorists Frueh (2001) and Colebrook (2006). An inclusive theory of feminist beauty would be based, not on the visual alone nor on norms and ideals that we know cause harm, but on sensory pleasure, self-love, and the embodied state of aliveness and vitality.

Eliza Chandler
Disability studies scholar and activist Mia Mingus urges us not to join the ranks of normalcy, but, rather, to work to dismantle the systems of privilege that maintains them (2010). Mingus follows her own direction with her articulation of ‘moving towards the ugly’ (2011). She suggests that rather than attempt to have the disabled body be recognized as beautiful—fitting into the normative production of beauty— disabled people might dwell in the space of the "ugly," move towards it, and see what aesthetic and political possibilities lie here.
In this talk, I begin to ponder a notion of ‘disability aesthetics’ in order to think through what is gained and what is lost by ‘moving towards the ugly,’ as Mingus suggests we do. Engaging bits of art history where the disabled body has been figured as well as contemporary art by disability artists in Toronto, I wonder, when we attempt to figure disability as beautiful do we always, necessarily, bend disability in the direction of an imperfect version of normative beauty? Could we, instead, consider ‘disability aesthetics’ for how it might reinvigorate understandings of beauty.

Presenter Bios

Dr. Carla Rice is a Canada Research Chair at University of Guelph. A leader in the field of fat and embodiment studies in Canada, her research explores cultural representations and narratives of body and identity. She recently founded Project Re•Vision, a mobile media lab that works with communities to challenge stereotypes. Books include Gender and Women’s Studies in Canada: Critical Terrain, and the forthcoming Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture. 

Eliza Chandler is a PhD Candidate in the department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education, OISE/UT, where she holds a SSHRC fellowship. Her Research explores enactments of crip community in university life. Chandler teaches disability studies at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. She is also the Toronto-site coordinator for Project ReVision. Her most recent publication is "Interactions of Disability Pride and Shame" in The Female Face of Shame.