For CU Denver graduate student Madison Krall, a routine visit to her favorite coffee shop sparked something extraordinary: a TEDx talk.
When she stopped into Kaladi Coffee Roasters that fateful day, Krall was completing an MA in Communication with an emphasis in rhetoric of health and medicine, so she was no stranger to public speaking. When she saw a poster calling for auditions for TEDx, Krall realized how much she wanted to share her research on fat bias. (Krall’s use of the word “fat” is an intentional reclaiming of the term, rather than employing the more commonly used “obese.”)
“I became a fat studies scholar to fight against prejudice, bias, and discrimination,” she said, “and TEDx talks are a unique platform to share your passion with the world. I’m a huge fan!”
Teaching skills translate to TEDx
At the time, Krall was also teaching public speaking classes as an instructor for the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), and for the TEDx audition, she drew on the advice she gave her students.
“I asked myself what I wanted to communicate through a TEDx talk, what the benefits might be, and then I practiced. A lot.”
Two months after auditioning, Krall found out she was still in the running, and in April 2016, as she was preparing to walk in the commencement ceremony, TEDx selected her to give a talk.
“I was thrilled, and nervous, as anyone would be,” said Krall, now a CU Denver alumna and a doctoral student at the University of Utah. “Again, I thought about my public-speaking students. I wanted to do a good job for them.”
Another reason Krall wanted to deliver a great talk was because she was following in the footsteps of one of her mentors at CU Denver, Assistant Professor of Communication Amy Hasinoff, Ph.D., whose 2016 TEDx talk examines sexting and consent.
Having Hasinoff as a mentor was one of the reasons Krall enrolled at CU Denver for her masters, and her early focus was on feminist criticism and new media. Through courses such as “Digital Health Narratives,” work with Denver nonprofits and an internship with the film Fattitude, Krall realized she wanted to study public health discourse.
“There’s so much potential in narratives about health to make a difference,” she said. “For example, even the phrase ‘fat talk,’ used in the body-positivity movement, implies negativity. Instead we should create language around what ‘health’ is and looks like.”
Krall’s ‘Point of Departure’
The theme of the July 2017 TEDx symposium was “Point of Departure,” and speakers were invited to talk about the “power of ideas” and a point in their life when things changed for them. As a fat-studies scholar, Krall spoke about “thin privilege.”
“Here’s the thing about privilege – it’s invisible,” she said. “As an undergraduate, I realized I was receiving all these benefits for being thin, which I had taken for granted, not knowing the discrimination that fat people endure.”
On the TEDx stage, Krall discussed two places where fat oppression can be particularly damaging: in the workplace and in the medical field. “Many employers hold negative stereotypes about fat employees, contributing to workplace discrimination,” she stated.
Over the course of her talk, Krall cited statistics to back up her argument, such as the fact that 93 percent of H.R. professionals said they would hire someone with a normal weight over someone they perceived to be fat even if both individuals had the same qualifications. Additionally, she pointed out that “fat employees make 2-1/2 percent less money than their “normal sized” colleagues, a disparity that can mean upwards of $100,000 less for a fat employee over a 40-year career.”
Similarly, Krall argued that many medical professionals are consciously or unconsciously biased against fat people. She cited a study that found “40 percent of doctors had some type of weight prejudice, while a survey of physicians found doctors using adjectives such as ‘weak-willed, ugly, and awkward’ to describe their obese patients.”
Sparking change through conversation
Krall’s skill as a public speaker, combined with the TEDx platform for communicating ideas, creates a platform in which she can “incite change” in the audience members, which included fellow teachers and medical professionals.
To conclude her TEDx talk, Krall told the audience that “fat is the final accepted prejudice.” She reminded them that change is a process, and she asked them to begin by simply considering that thin privilege exists.
“The impacts of discrimination are far reaching, but we can create a society where all bodies are treated as equal.”