Professor Esther Rothblum

Biography and abstract for Appearance Matters 9 Online Conference keynote speaker



Esther Rothblum is Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University and LGBTQ Studies advisor. She is editor of the Journal of Lesbian Studies as well as Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society. Her research and writing have focused on LGBT relationships and mental health as well as on the stigma of weight. Esther has edited 28 books, including The Fat Studies Reader and Preventing Heterosexism and Homophobia.

She has compared lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals to their heterosexual siblings, as well as transgender to cisgender siblings. There has been little research on sexual orientation and gender identity that uses appropriate comparison groups. Esther has also conducted a longitudinal study of same-sex couples who were united in a civil union during the first year this legislation was available in the US (in the State of Vermont, July 2000 to July 2001) with their same-sex coupled friends who did not have civil unions, and with their married heterosexual siblings. Esther is also interested in ways that women connect with each other in non-sexual ways. She has edited the books Lesbians Ex-LoversLesbian Friendships, and Lesbian Communities and is currently studying asexuality.

Esther has also conducted research on the stigma of weight, including weight and employment discrimination, women’s weight in an international context, and the ways in which women cope with the stigma of weight.


Being seen: Queer appearances

by Esther Rothblum

Member of minority groups often grow up in minority communities and only learn about the majority community when they enter school. However, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) often grow up in majority communities and have to find the sexual and gender minority communities on their own. Appearance plays a large role in this process—both recognizing who looks queer and changing one’s own appearance to look queer to others.

This talk will focus on a number of topics around sexual orientation, gender identity, and appearance. People sexually involved with men (that is, heterosexual women and gay men) often feel greater pressure to conform to appearance norms than people sexually involved with women (that is, heterosexual men and lesbians). Bisexual people who have been involved with men and women can reflect on these differences in their own lives, and so can transgender people who have transitioned from one gender to another. Research on dating sites has also examined how both heterosexual and non-heterosexual men and women describe their own appearance and those of the partners they seek. The terms “butch” and “femme,” and their corresponding appearance, have waxed and waned over the past decades. Meanwhile, corporations study the lives of sexual and gender minorities as new “markets,” including now gender non-binary individuals.

This talk will focus on strategies for queer-identified individuals to find identity, authenticity, and a sense of belonging. 

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