Feminist Friday focuses on “fat as a feminist issue”


Feminist Friday speaker, Amanda Arp, a graduate student and teaching assistant from the Department of English and communication consult for the Writing and Media Center, led a discussion over embracing fat as a feminist and rhetorical issue on Feb. 28.

Loretta Mcgraw

At this week’s Feminist Friday, Amanda Arp, a graduate student and teaching assistant from the Department of English and communication consult for the Writing and Media Center, led a discussion over “embracing fat as a feminist and rhetorical issue.”

Arp is a PhD student studying rhetoric and professional communication in the English Department. Arp’s areas of study are composition pedagogy, visual rhetoric, fat studies and feminist epistemologies, according to her bio from the Women and Gender Studies Program website. 

In 2019, Arp and her colleague Cassidy Boe, an Iowa State alumna, started a study titled “Improving the Plus-Sized Student Experience in Higher Education.” The focus of the research was on the lived experiences of “plus-sized” undergraduate and graduate students at Iowa State. Other research Arp has conducted has been over fatness and constructed space, the writings of fat memoirs and manifestos, rhetorical analysis and her dissertation is over developing a fat rhetoric.

Much of her research and expansion on fat as a feminist issue includes the novels “Coping Mechanism for Gendered Anguish” by Susan Orbach, “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism” by Julie Guthman, “Why Fat is a Feminist Issue” by Abigail C. Saguy, “Unbearable Weight” by Susan Bordo, and “Is Fat a Feminist Issue? Exploring the Gendered Nature of Weight Bias” by Esther Rothblum and Janna Fikkan in an article published in Sex Roles.

The main features of Friday’s discussion were focused on fatness in American society, fat as a feminist issue and rhetorical issue and the areas of Arp’s research in the way people use language in shaping discrimination. Arp’s presentation addressed the different neutral terms to use versus the inappropriate even insulting terminology people to avoid.

Arp’s discussion was based upon the fact that all beings have a certain level of fatness in their bodies and that every person has personally or knows someone who has experienced certain terms and language used to discuss people’s bodily figure.

To give attendees some perspective, Arp presented examples of women who used language to resist pressures from society from the Feminist Manifestos “You Have The Right to Remain Fat” by Virgil Tovar and “Bad Feminist Essays” by Roxane Gay. They contain feminist theory, actions for change and conceptions of feminist thought and activism. 

“Women are supposed to fade into the background they’re not meant to take up that much space,” Arp said. “So when we are considering the influence of fat we can see these gendered elements which generally lead into our understanding of fat as a feminist issue.” 

To participate in Arp and Boe’s study “The Fat Student Experience in Higher Education” individuals can email Arp at [email protected] to set up an in person or video chat 30 to 60 minute interview. 

The next Feminst Friday will take place at 1 p.m. March 27 in the Margaret Sloss Center for Women and Gender Equity. It will feature Jenny Pollard a Communications and Program Coordinator at Iowa State University who will be hosting a discussion on “The Double Burden: Perspectives from a Feminist Caretaker”.