Williams-Forson Talks Race, Food and Sizeism in Love Your Body Week Keynote

Riley Heffron ‘26, Guest Writer

Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson discussed race, food and sizeism in her keynote address for Dickinson’s 2023 Love Your Body Week. She delivered her talk, “Bearing Witness to Myself: Womanness, Blackness, Fatness, Wholeness and…the Twisted Work of Trauma,” on Feb. 22.

According to Katie Schweighofer, Director of the Women’s & Gender Resource Center, Love Your Body Week is “an intersectional, body-positive celebration of all that makes us who we are.” The goal of the keynote address was to focus on sizeism and the different components, like racism, classism and culture. “Dr. Williams-Forson’s work on African-American food cultures, racism and body shaming, particularly that experienced by women of color, was a perfect fit!” Schweighofer said.

Williams-Forson, who is the chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland College Park, started the talk by saying that she believed our society is in a time of “food hysteria,” that everywhere we look, people are talking about food, whether that is in relation to the health of your diet or the way your body looks to the point where “people are no longer able to just be.” 

She walked her audience through an article, “Young Lives at Risk: Our Overweight Children,” from the Washington Post in May 2008 that featured 12-year-old Latrisha Avery. Williams-Forson demonstrated the ways that the media will use selective imagery to push a “single story.” Instead, she argued that people should have looked further into Avery’s life before making judgements about her weight. What could be her home life? Is eating a trauma response? Avery, said Williams-Forson, was being told “that she needs to change instead of fighting the actual problem.” 

Williams-Forson argued that the system that she grew up in is one that makes her believe that her weight is a personal failure and not a problem of the system that was set up to fail her. She said Avery was subjected to “adultification,” the experience of being forced to grow up, a phenomenon which many kids of color experience. 

“Not all healthy eating begins or ends with growing one’s own food, driving to the organic market, buying and eating locally or even shopping at particular food markets. As we talk through some of these issues, we have to consider the differences between our intentions and the impact that they actually end up having. Because doing this kind of work in hopes that it’s humane and liberating will only be so if we’re going to honor the food choices and decisions of African-American communities,” Williams-Forson said while closing her talk. 

For Ashley Harbert ’26, attending the talk was an extra credit assignment for her Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies 101 class; however, she said she would have gone anyway. “It felt like she [Dr. Williams-Forson] was giving language to feelings and memories, and I could see other people in the audience feel like they were building the ability to talk about this same exact thing too,” Harbert said.

Schweighofer had read a couple of Williams-Forson’s books beforehand so she knew some of the things that she might talk about. “I really loved how she brought up personal sense to the academic content… She had academic scholars, experts in the field, along with her daughter and everyday people,” Schweighofer said. “She did a really nice job of having an authentic and real conversation with the room.”