Fat is not a four-letter word

Meagan Kerr existing while fat

Hands up if you’ve ever been called fat.

Whether you’ve heard it as a schoolyard taunt, an unkind remark from a stranger or a “well-meaning” comment from a relative, chances are that if you’ve ever been called fat it hasn’t been in a positive way. So understandably, you might have a few negative connotations with that word.

“Please don’t refer to yourself as fat it’s not helping one bit … I understand you feel comfortable, but that word should never be used on anyone – it’s not a positive…”

This comment came from someone following me on Instagram, and it’s what prompted me to write this post.

It is a word that is often whispered behind our backs, shouted from a car, hissed from behind a keyboard. People often mean it to hurt, but when I decided to stop giving it the power to do so, it was then that I realised that the word fat is a physical descriptor – it is no different to short, Māori or woman, three other things that describe me. I am intelligent, I am a woman, I am fat, but that is not the sum of who I am – these are simply words that describe part of the complex being that I am.

Like Kelli Jean Drinkwater says in her TEDx talk, I am capital F A T kind of fat. And before you say “You are not fat, you have fat. You also have fingernails, but you are not fingernails”, let me just say, NO. Fat is both a noun and an adjective, so using it to describe the appearance of my body is, in fact, accurate.

When I say that I’m fat in a neutral way, I’m challenging all of the negative things that are associated (whether you associate them consciously or not) with the word; the stereotypes of fat people being lazy, smelly, uneducated, greedy or morally reprehensible; your own life experiences and things you’ve been taught/told; as well as the idea that appearance comes with some kind of moral value attached to it.

The more we use terms like fat in a neutral way, the more we take them back. Think of it as taking away the power that they have to hurt you. I think that the intent with which a word is said is really important, I know that I’ve had the words girl, woman and feminist used with similar vitriol. When we give a word a negative connotation (like fat has been given), it has the power to hurt – and I choose not to give that power to someone else anymore.

Personally I prefer being called fat to any of the other euphemisms people have come up with. Chubby, curvy, thick, big, heavy, large, plump, fluffy … as Lindy West mentioned in her interview with The Sporkful, fat is honest, straight up, it is what it is. At the end of the day, those words all mean the same thing – that I’m fat –  but it’s like they’re skirting around my fatness. We use those euphemisms largely because we are uncomfortable with fat bodies, but we shouldn’t be.

I use the word fat to describe myself because it’s factual. It’s the truth. It’s not a bad thing, because the size and shape of someone’s body does not determine their worth. If you don’t like using the word fat to describe your body, that’s fine – you can choose whatever words sit comfortably for you – but please know that identifying as fat is not bad or wrong.

 

7 Comments

  1. July 12, 2017 / 3:58 pm

    I have mixed feelings on this, on one hand I have accepted being fat. On the other hand when someone else calls me fat I assume they mean I am ugly. Now if thats what they mean, then ya that does hurt.

    • July 13, 2017 / 8:31 pm

      It’s really unfortunate that people are taught that fat is synonymous with ugly, lazy, stupid etc because that is blatantly untrue. Fat does NOT mean ugly so please don’t ever think that. If someone is calling you fat in a malicious way, that’s because they’re an asshole.

  2. July 3, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    Reclaiming the word fat is something that I struggle with. I’m not sure if I’m ok with it yet. I have no problem with others using it to describe themselves, but sometimes I feel a bit awkward using it.
    I once said in a conversation that I was fat and the person I was talking to said “Phew, at least you said it because I was afraid I’ve have to skirt around the issue” and then proceeded to use it excessively during the conversation including terms like “Well you know, you’re fat”.
    Like the N word or slagging off other’s families, it’s only ok if the person themselves does it otherwise it can be perceived as offensive.

    • July 3, 2017 / 2:55 pm

      Honestly, it took me a really long time to be okay with it. I think one of the things that was really helpful for me was that I had a few friends who were unapologetic about their bodies and used the word fat in a neutral way on a regular basis. Unlearning all the negative shit I had associated with being fat was hard, because it’s so ingrained and I sometimes feel like I’m surrounded by it.

      • Deb
        July 3, 2017 / 8:02 pm

        Also, using the word fat isn’t an open invitation for others to be rude. These conversations need to be shut down, not because of the word fat but because some people think that because we’re fat it’s okay to be insensitive and or disrespectful. We’ve got to stand up for ourselves when this happens. I mean yes I’m fat but that’s not an invitation to discuss my fatness. Just like someone’s height, age, wrinkles etc are not an invitation.

        • July 7, 2017 / 11:24 am

          I definitely agree Deb. I think it has made me cautious of who I use the word around because some people have zero manners. I think I will eventually become comfortable with it as Meagan did. Incorporating it into my vocabulary may take a little longer than I’d like.

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