9th Annual Weight Stigma Conference

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Dr Cat Pausé Travel Bursary

Dr Cat Pausé Travel Bursary

On 26th March, 2022 we heard the terrible news that Dr Caitlin (Cat) Pausé had passed in her sleep. Cat was a force of nature. She was a scholar, a mentor, a teacher, an activist, and a tireless advocate for fat rights. She also hosted a successful radio show in New Zealand called Friend of Marilyn (referring to formidable activist Marilyn Wann) and available as a podcast, in which she interviewed researchers, practitioners, activists, and people engaged in all forms of fat liberation work around the world, from plus-size models to political campaigners, as well as sharing others’ writing and providing commentary on topics that were on the public radar.

Two women sit side by side smiling into the camera. On the left, Cat Pause is wearing a sleeveless summer dress and has black sunglasses resting on top of her head. On the right, Stephanie von Liebenstein is wearing a white blouse with an open V-neck and glasses.

“Cat was an amazing communicator who brought together fat studies scholars and activists from all over the world. Her activism, her scholarly work and her conferences changed the world for so many of us working in the field. She was active in changing the law in New Zealand to include fatness as a discrimination ground and supported our struggle to do the same in Germany. She had wit, intellect and political instinct. Her radio show not only most certainly improved the situation of fat people in NZ but influenced activism in the whole world.”

STEPHANIE VON LIEBENSTEIN, GERMAN ACTIVIST AND SCHOLAR, HOST WSC 2022, BERLIN

 

She was a stalwart friend to the WSC, sponsoring the event every year out of her own pocket. In the days after her death, I read numerous tributes and learned about how much she also supported others doing all kinds of work in fat scholarship and fat activism, supporting producers of all kinds. Those of us who were lucky enough to have Zoomed with Cat will have seen the amazing gallery wall behind her desk showcasing the photography of Substantia Jones and the Adipositivity Project. She impressed on me the importance of changing our visual diet, surrounding ourselves with images of beautiful fat bodies to counter the normalisation of fatphobia and our own acquired body hatred.

In the days after her death, I (Angela Meadows) was trying to remember when I first came across Cat, and to begin with, I couldn’t. I was surprised to remember how many years I had known her. Revisiting her work to write this, it came back to me. It was in response to Dr Geoffrey Miller’s fatphobic tweet in 2013 where he explicitly mocked fat individuals who were applying to graduate school. Cat responded by setting up a tumblr, “Fuck, yeah! Fat PhDs” to feature fat people proud of being “fatlicious in academia.” Page after page of Fat PhDs, beginning with her own doctoral graduation photo. I had only just started my own PhD studies at the time, and scrolling through page after page of smiling fat people receiving their doctorates was incredibly powerful.

She shared some of the press coverage this project received on her website. For those of us grieving at the moment, you could do worse than to check some of these out, and for once, do read the comments. I particularly loved this one under the Jezebel piece.

I still don’t remember when I first spoke to Cat directly – I can’t imagine a time when she was not in my life. I think many of us are just starting to comprehend the amount of time that Cat dedicated to building and nurturing these relationships, building a closer fat community, and making every person she spoke with feel truly special. 

 

“I got to know Cat briefly a few years ago when she was invited by the Icelandic Body Respect Association to give a workshop at the University of Iceland. We only got to sit down a couple of times during her visit but despite the brief encounter, she stayed in touch over the years. She was the kind of person that if you crossed paths even once, she made you feel like you were connected for life. She will be so deeply missed.”

SIGRÚN DANÍELSDÓTTIR, BODY RESPECT ACTIVIST, ICELAND, AND HOST WSC 2015, REYKJAVIK

 

She taught me so much over the years, influencing the way I do my scholarship, my activism, and run this conference. She never criticised, but she modelled and suggested and posed questions. She wanted you to get there on your own. With a little help moving you in the right direction. So many of us valued her insights, advice, and emotional support as we do the sometimes difficult work challenging fat stigma in society. Dr Jill Andrew, Body Confidence Canada co-founder and Canadian politician, and keynote speaker at the 2019 WSC, told this story (shared with permission):

“I remember many many years ago when I had done an interview with her…someone called me a fat c*nt and I was taken aback by it…Cat told me to paraphrase, “Let’s celebrate! You’re officially being recognized as a fat activist” and she laughed. She had a wonderful sense of humour. I will deeply miss Cat’s mind and her contributions to addressing fat stigma.”

DR JILL ANDREW, MPP, BODY CONFIDENCE CANADA, KEYNOTE, WSC 2019, LONDON, ONTARIO

 

One of Cat’s passions was elevating the voices and work of fat activists around the world, in particular, providing a platform for those working outside North America and Western Europe and beyond the English-speaking mainstream. She had plans to take a sabbatical in South America, and we were discussing taking the WSC to Argentina to coincide with this. Cat was also the reason that we planned to take the WSC to NZ, to coincide with her 4-yearly Fat Studies Conference. Of course, WSC 2020 in Auckland didn’t happen because of COVID, and many many people were looking forward to our second shot at this in 2024. I am devastated that we never made this happen in her lifetime, but am hopeful that we will take the WSC to Australasia in the next few years. I am in no doubt that it is partially through Cat’s efforts that we have seen a rise in submissions and delegates from South America to the WSC in the last few years.

In honour of her life and work, the WSC is introducing an annual Dr Cat Pausé Travel Bursary of £500 (or equivalent) open to students from the Global South to enable them to attend the WSC. Applications should be made through the standard Bursary Fund application form.

Several people have indicated their desire to contribute to this bursary. If you are financially able to provide an annual bursary, please do contact me. If you would like to make a one-off donation of any amount in Cat’s name, can I ask that you make a contribution to our general Bursary Fund. Since its inception in 2016, this crowdfunded bursary has allowed us to waive registration fees for over 40 people (and provide five travel awards) from 12 countries and make the conference more accessible.

Dr Pausé’s loss to the fat studies and fat activism community can barely be captured in words. There is a hole where Cat used to be. But her influence extends way beyond those of us whose lives she touched personally, with the ripples extending to fat people around the world who will never know her name. While we have not even begun to mourn this incredible loss, I also want to use Cat’s own words. Let’s celebrate! The world is a better place for having had Cat in it.

Previous award winners:

2022: Lisa Moura, Institute of Public Health Studies, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

[First posted in March 2022. Minor updates made in April 2023.]


1 Comment

  1. Lily says:

    Beautiful tribute to a phenomenal woman

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