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Esther Rothblum


Training Location(s):

PhD (Clinical Psychology), Rutgers University, (1980)

MS (Clinical Psychology), Rutgers University, (1976-1979)

BA, Smith College, (1972-1976)

Primary Affiliation(s):

San Diego State University, (2005-present)

University of Vermont, (1982-2005)

Media Links:

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

Professional Website

Esther Rothblum at San Diego State University


Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Developing a Feminist Identity

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: On Size Acceptance

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Scholarship & Activism



Career Focus: Lesbian relationships; mental health; the stigma of women's weight; academic procrastination.


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)
To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:


Rothblum, E.D. (2010).  Where is the "women's community"?  Voices of lesbian, bisexual, and queer women and their heterosexual sisters. Feminism & Psychology, 20(4), 454-472.


Rothblum, E.D. (2010). The complexity of Butch and Femme among sexual minority women in the 21st Century. Psychology of Sexualities Review, 1(1), 29-42.


Solovay, S., & Rothblum, E.D. (Eds.) (2009).  The fat studies reader.  New York: New York University Press.


Rothblum, E.D. (2008).  Finding a large and thriving lesbian and bisexual community:  The costs and benefits of caring.  Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 4, 69-79.


Rothblum, E.D.  (2004). Diversity and size acceptance:  Lessons from the lesbian experience.  Health at Every Size Journal, 18, 41-43.


Rothblum, E.D., Balsam, K.F., & Mickey, R.M. (2004).  Brothers and sisters of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals as a demographic comparison group:  An innovative research methodology to examine social change.  The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40, 283-301.


Rothblum, E.D. (2000).  Sexual orientation and sex in women's lives:  Conceptual and methodological issues.  Journal of Social Issues, 56, 193-204.


Rothblum, E.D., & Brehony, K.A. (Eds.) (1993).  Boston marriages:  Romantic but asexual relationships among contemporary lesbians.  Amherst, MA:  University of Massachusetts Press.


Rothblum, E. D. (1990).  Depression among lesbians:  An invisible and unresearched phenomenon.  Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 1, 67-87.

Photo Gallery:


Interview with Esther Rothblum: Developing a Feminist Identity

Interview conducted on March 14, 2009 by Tera Beaulieu, Axelle Karera & Jenna MacKay in Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A.


Interview with Esther Rothblum: On Size Acceptance

Interview conducted on March 14, 2009 by Tera Beaulieu, Axelle Karera & Jenna MacKay in Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A.


Interview with Esther Rothblum: Scholarship & Activism

Interview conducted on March 14, 2009 by Tera Beaulieu, Axelle Karera & Jenna MacKay in Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A.