On Being the ‘Fat Person’: Possibilities and Pitfalls for Fat Activist Engagement in Academic Institutions


  • Calla Evans Ryerson University
  • May Friedman Ryerson University




fat studies, fat activism, fat pedagogy, feminist pedagogies, life writing, the, epistemological justice, fat phobia, emotional labour, microagrressions


This article addresses the possibilities and pitfalls for fat activist engagement in academic institutions through the framework of the ‘fat person.’ Drawing from Emily Henderson’s (2019) ‘gender person’ in academia framework, we connect our own experiences as fat studies scholars, teachers, and activists with the experiences of other scholars in our field to construct a framework of understanding the role of the fat studies expert, or the ‘fat person,’ in the academy. The raw material for this article was written over the course of two extended online chat sessions between the authors, which took place during the summer of 2020. Our conversations were seeded by our prior histories as fat people and fat academics, and by our pre-existing collaborations: as supervisor and graduate student, co-researchers, and through teaching together in a fat studies course. Throughout this article we draw on scholars in our field who have explored their experiences as fat academics, fat researchers, fat students, and fat teachers. We argue that this framework is a useful step in furthering understanding of what it means to be positioned as the ‘fat person’ within an academic institution. We are embedded in the strength of our communal and embodied experiences, and at the same time, we are also aware of the potential ethical challenges of working from a place that is firmly grounded in community knowledge. Our hope is that other scholars, particularly fat studies scholars, will build from the framework we are suggesting here to further understandings of how the ‘fat person’ is constructed—and resisted—within the academy 

Author Biographies

Calla Evans, Ryerson University

is a PhD student in Communication and Culture. Her research explores fat identity construction and performance, with particular attention to the ways in which fat activist practices enforce boundaries around acceptable expressions of fatness. Calla is a research associate at the Center for Fashion & Systemic Change and the Creative Communities in Collaboration research lab. She also works with Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph as a digital storytelling facilitator 

May Friedman, Ryerson University

is a faculty member in downtown Toronto. Most recently much of May’s research has focused on intersectional approaches to fat studies considering the multiple and fluid experiences of both fat oppression and fat activism. Drawing on a range of arts-based methods, including digital storytelling as well as analyses of treasured garments, May has explored meaning making and representation in relation to embodiment and experience. 


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How to Cite

Evans, C., & Friedman, M. (2022). On Being the ‘Fat Person’: Possibilities and Pitfalls for Fat Activist Engagement in Academic Institutions. Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Learning, 8(2), 120–142. https://doi.org/10.15402/esj.v8i2.70745

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