Esther Rothblum was born on January 11, 1955 in Vienna, Austria. Her family moved around often for her father’s job in foreign aid, and Esther lived in Yugoslavia, the United States, Spain, Brazil, Nigeria, and Austria before moving back to the U.S. for college. Her mother and father differed in their parental priorities; her mother, an elite ski racer, prized athletic ability, while her father was more interested in academics. Esther and her brother were raised Jewish, and though Esther hasn’t been religious since graduate school, she tries very hard to keep an element of prayer-like gratitude in her life.
Esther received her B.A. from Smith College, then attended graduate school at Rutgers in Clinical Psychology, which led her to an internship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. When talking about her academic career, Esther weaves together anecdotes that are equal parts endearing and inspiring about her failed attempts to be straight, her swift conversion to feminism, and her tenacity in the face of professional criticism.
From 1980 to 1982, Esther did her postdoc at Yale. There, she began going to gay bars and women’s bookstores to meet other lesbians, which had been impossible back in Mississippi. She’d been aware of her sexuality since an experience in the first grade, but a combination of laws, workplace prejudice, and negative coming out experiences kept her largely closeted until her time at Yale. After a recurring series of events in which Esther went somewhere in search of a lover and found academic success instead, Esther met her partner Penny, a retired physical therapist and fifth-degree black belt in Aikido, three days before the millennium. They’ve been happily together ever since.
While still in graduate school, Esther began editing a book on women’s mental health, which sparked her longtime interest in studying the relationship between mental health and gender. Upon reading literature regarding the ineffectiveness of dieting, Esther also became a fat activist and scholar. She considers fat studies to be the less mainstream of her two research areas, and emphasizes the importance of having a thick skin (“a grapefruit, not a peach”) when conducting more radical research.
Esther was a Professor of Psychology at the University of Vermont from 1983 to 2005, and is now Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. She was the editor of the journal Women & Therapy for 12 years, the founding editor of the Journal of Lesbian Studies for 26 years, and is the founder of Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society. She has edited 28 books.
Throughout her childhood, Esther’s father modeled the importance of friendship and keeping in touch; now, Esther says that her friendships “sustain her.” Offhand mentions of standing lunches, daily calls, and biweekly breakfasts are scattered throughout her interview like little reminders of her dedication to her friends. Esther’s remarkable journey and unwavering enthusiasm for life have left an indelible mark not only on her academic fields, but also on the people around her, and she continues to inspire and uplift today.