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“Fat” is Not a Bad Word

Published on March 4, 2015 by Ariel Goldberg

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It’s just a word. Image courtesy of Ariel Goldberg.

“I say, ‘I am fat.’ He says, ‘No, you are beautiful.’ I wonder why I cannot be both.”

This is how Rachel Wiley begins her spoken word piece, “10 Honest Thoughts on Being Loved by a Skinny Boy.” Putting aside the somewhat implicit usage of objectification to validate worth (which I don’t think this necessarily does, because the context of the piece is the narrator’s relationship, and attraction is a significant part of most relationships), Wiley makes an important point here: “Fat” and “beautiful” are mutually exclusive.

But they shouldn’t be.

In many parts of the world, “fat” is a bad word. “‘Fat’ is an insult here in the U.S., where I’ve come of age, and I rarely hear it without some commentary on a perceived lack of hygiene or intelligence,” writes Kitty Stryker [NSFW link] on her blog.

I hear this frequently, and I’m sure you do too. “I feel so fat today,” my friend casually complains while pinching the skin on their stomach. “I’m having such a fat day,” my coworker says while eating a small piece of chocolate.

But to me, and to many others with bodies like mine, “fat” is merely a descriptor.

It’s an adjective that can be used to characterize our bodies in a clear and succinct way.

Not “curvy” — because, sure, I have curves, but so do most humans, regardless of their weight.

Not “large” or “larger” — because what does that even mean, and what is the context here? Larger than what, exactly?

Not “overweight” — because this term is based on an outdated and medically incorrect BMI scale that does not take into account both muscle and measurable health, that doctors continually use to bully and shame patients without actually giving them the care they require, and that people consistently use as a way to police others’ (especially women-identified or women-perceived folks’) bodies, and again as an excuse to make an individual’s private matters into something that is somehow acceptable to publicly comment on.

Fat. I am fat.

bad-wordBecause curiosity dictates that everyone reading this probably wants to know just how fat I am. For the record, my hair currently looks nothing like it does in this photo. Image by Ariel Goldberg.

When I say, “I am fat,” I am most frequently met with responses like, “No you’re not!” (But I am.); or, “But you’re pretty!” (I never said I wasn’t.); or, “Don’t insult yourself!” (I…didn’t?) because of the aforementioned stereotypes (that even I have written about before).

I’ve had these conversations with my family, friends, co-workers, self-proclaimed activists who teach and encourage universal diversity and acceptance, writers, strangers, and so many more. As a matter of fact, this piece was inspired by a recent interaction I had on social media with another blogger who thought my use of the word fat in one of my last pieces would be insulting to fat people.

But as uncomfortable as they might be, it’s important that we have these conversations because the fact is that weight bias both leads to discrimination and contributes to the glass ceiling.

It has been reported that even within industries and positions that already favor men over women, fat women make up a far fewer percentage of employees than fat men. When more than half the adult population in the United States is classified as “overweight,” shouldn’t the number of “overweight” people in these positions correlate? They nearly do for men, but not for women.

And it’s not that we’re lazy, because it was also reported in a recent study that, “…the heavier women got, the more likely they were to work in a physically demanding job. Morbidly obese women were most likely to have jobs requiring a lot of physical activity, and even when they did work in professional settings, they earned 5 percent less than normal-weight women. The same wasn’t true for obese men, who earned the same amount in both physically demanding and personal-interaction heavy jobs as normal-weight men.”

Granted, this does not take into account known correlations between weight and socioeconomic status or race. Spoiler alert: Low income people (especially women) of color are more likely to be fat thanks to institutionalized racism that systematically denies them fair access to educational resources, higher-paying jobs, healthier (and more expensive) food, etc.

On a tangential but related note, it might seem easy to blame fat people for this predicament or attempt to use it as a way to encourage us to lose weight.

Here are some choice comments I’ve recently come across on fat acceptance blogs around the web:

— “Since you’re so bothered by your weight, why not lose it?”

— “How can you blame your own body image issues on others?”

— “You got fat because of the choices you made. Stop whining and do something about it!”

For one thing, these people don’t know my history, my health, or the “reason” (as if there is only one) why I look the way I do — nor is it any of their business, as we’ve previously covered. Additionally, it’s been proven over and over and over again that bullying fat people into losing weight does not work.

We are more than our bodies, yet we are constantly and consistently defined by them.

But back to the topic at hand: Trust me. I’m fat.

When I tell people that I’m fat (which, let’s be honest, if you can see me, then you probably already know it, so I’m not saying it to clue anyone in — more like casually throwing it into a conversation when it’s relevant, such as, “I wish this store sold sizes that would fit me and other fat people!”, or, “Since I’m fat, could we sit at this table with slightly more space?”), all anyone hears is, “I am lazy. I am slovenly. I am stupid. I walk around with grease stains on my shirt all the time.” Which, despite how uncoordinated and excellent at accidentally dropping food on my chest (Thanks, boobs.) I am, I hope is mostly untrue.

(I also feel it needs to be said that I do not find any of the above qualities innately bad or wrong, just that when I say “fat,” I am in no way referring to any of them.)

So let’s keep this in mind going forward: Fat is not a bad word.

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