Esther Rothblum

Since the mid 1980's, Esther Rothblum has focused her scholarship on women's studies, fat studies, and LGBTQA+ topics. 1

Esther Rothblum
Personal details






Esther Rothblum, Ph.D. 2 joined UVM’s Psychology Department in 1982. Over her 23 years at UVM, she proved to be one of UVM’s most productive research faculty members, with several dozen books and well over 100 journal articles, many of them focusing on the experiences and wellbeing of lesbians. Of the 24 grant-funded research projects she was awarded, 12 of them focused on lesbian issues.

Her research and writing have focused on lesbian relationships and on the stigma of women’s weight. She is editor of the Journal of Lesbian Studies as well as the new academic journal Fat Studies. She has edited over 20 books; her most recent book, The Fat Studies Reader, was reviewed in the New York Times, the New Yorker, MS Magazine, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. 3

Rothblum says she’s been around long enough to witness a tremendous change in the field of psychology. “When I was a graduate student, my mentor told us, ‘Don’t study women. It’s too narrow.’ And now, every colleague routinely looks at gender issues as part of their studies.” 4

Esther Rothblum has received inspiration from many sources. One source was her father, who had never been to college, and was a Jewish immigrant diplomat, a somewhat unusual combination! Rothblum had an international upbringing; while growing up she lived in Nigeria, Brazil, Spain and Yugoslavia. Her family immigrated to the United States from Austria because her father wanted her to go to college and meet a nice Jewish husband. Ironically, given her father's intentions, Rothblum attended Smith College, which was on the cusp of becoming a hotbed of feminism and lesbian activism.

Speaking about the beginning of her feminist identity, Rothblum remembers a house meeting at her Smith College residence. The house president noted, in outlining the house rules, that a man had been spotted on the top floor of their house. Rothblum was certain she would be warned to 'lock her doors' and 'never walk alone.' Instead, the house president said, "If we see him, lets tackle him all together!" Rothblum cites that empowering directive as the beginning of her feminism. As a professor of women's studies, Rothblum feels that students today tend to look down on all-girls schools. For her Smith was exciting and radical. There was a strong sense of feminist solidarity: "We are all women, the world is sexist, and we are going to be a group of leaders that will change the world and kill patriarchy."

As one of the first generation in her family to go to college, Rothblum did not have much guidance when applying. When choosing to pursue Psychology, she recalls having to select a major and simply remembered a psychology book she had read in high school. When deciding what to do with a BA degree in Psychology, people had told her "that you really needed to have a PhD" and so Rothblum thought, "okay, I'll go on with that". So there "wasn't any creative or rational reason other than something to put on [her] college application" and then she stuck with it.

In her college training, Rothblum recalls that you were not able to report the gender of your participants and no one questioned the assumptions embedded within that method. Her PhD dissertation was on learned helplessness theory and depression. She felt it was boring, although it had "some application for women, because in many ways women are taught to be helpless." Thus, feminism was easy to integrate into her work, especially because Smith College had created an environment where it was expected.

Aside from her interest and research in 'mental health disorders' that disproportionately effect women, Rothblum has studied weight. Throughout her life Rothblum remembers, "always feeling like one of the fattest people in the room." Connecting weight to social context, Rothblum notes that weight and income are closely linked in Western countries, "that where you see fat people is where you see poor people." For Rothblum fat is both a psychological and a feminist issue, and she has researched weight and stigmatization. Rothblum points out that fat studies has been around since the 1960s and questions why there has not been much growth in fat studies or fat organizations.

In her professional work Rothblum has served as president of APA Division 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues). When speaking about this experience she jokes that she became involved in the Division by running for secretary treasurer only so that her opponent would have someone to run against. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Rothblum won the election and had no idea how to balance her own cheque book, let alone an organization's! A few years later, she ran for president.

Writing and editing are very important to Rothblum as a form of activism. Very early in her academic career she starting publishing and at 29-years-old served as editor of the journal Women and Therapy. Speaking about the link between activism and writing Rothblum states, "it is really hard to erase the published word. Even in countries that have censorship, they may allow certain books, but other countries have them and when regimes change you can get those materials back." As an editor Rothblum assures that work which is fatphobic, heterosexist, or sexist is not published.

As a mentor, Rothblum has encouraged her own students to publish. For instance, Rothblum collectively writes book reviews with her master's students to help them understand and gain confidence with the publishing process. Furthermore, she has assured that every student she has ever supervised have published an aspect of their thesis - even if that means writing the article herself.

Recently Rothblum has left the Psychology department to work in Women's Studies at San Diego State University. She felt she "would probably stay in Psychology at the University of Vermont forever, because nobody from Psychology wants to hire somebody from lesbian studies. [Psychology departments] are always looking for behavioral medicine or child psychopathology or something very mainstream". Luckily for Rothblum, the Women's Studies department at San Diego State University was interested in someone with a background in lesbian studies, body image, and the psychology of women. Aside from the perfect fit of this position, the career move has also allowed Rothblum to live closer to her lover, Penny.

When speaking about the balance between her professional and personal life, Rothblum is quick to admit she is a workaholic, but her work is her passion. However, as soon as friends call she drops everything to spend time with them, particularly over meals. She also balances her work by playing racquetball and was awarded a silver medal in the Gay Games. Despite her busy work life, Rothblum has always felt connected to and surrounded by a warm community.

by Jenna MacKay (2010) Retrieved from


  • Excellence in Research Award for Tenured Faculty, College of Arts and Letters, San Diego State University 2017
  • Most Influential Faculty Member of Outstanding Senior in LGBT Studies, San Diego State University 2017
  • Lavender Graduation Award, San Diego State University 2017
  • Alumni Association Award, Outstanding Faculty Contributions to the University (Monty Award), San Diego State University 2014-2015
  • Distinguished Publication Award, Association for Women in Psychology 2010 Size-Acceptance Vanguard Award, National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance 2010 Susan Koppelman Award for Best Anthology, Popular Culture/American Culture 2010 Association
  • Florence Denmark/Gori Grunwald Award for International Contributions to the Psychology of Women and Gender, International Council of Psychologists 2007 Lambda Literary Award Finalist 2005 Phi Beta Delta, Honor Society for International Scholars 2005
  • Laura Brown Award for Distinguished Contribution to Lesbian and Bisexual 2005 Women’s Issues, Division 35 (Psychology of Women) of the American Psychological Association
  • Lesbian Health Research Award, Lesbian Health Research Center Annual 2004 Gala Benefit, San Francisco, CA
  • Founding Mother, Women’s Studies Program, University of Vermont 2003 Outstanding Achievement Award, Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns, American Psychological Association 2002 *Faculty Leadership Award, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Questioning/Ally
  • Services of the University of Vermont 2002 Lesbian Psychologies Unpublished Manuscript Award, Association for Women in Psychology 1998 Atlanta Regional Consortium for Higher Education Visiting Scholar 1998
  • Outstanding Book Nominee, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America 1997


  • Her CV lists over 150 articles, books, and chapters relating to lesbians, women, and women's weight studies.





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