The 2nd article in the Fat Is a Neutral Word series
I have a certain memory from years ago that I can’t seem to shake. A friend one day wore a pink shirt paired with a long green skirt – an unusual but nice combination. It definitely caught your eye. A mutual friend went in for a hug, and with a smile he said, “You look like a watermelon!” She pulled back laughing and said sarcastically, “Great! I look like a big, fat watermelon!” With one word, what would have been a nice, anecdotal comment was turned into an insult. And we’ve all seen this happen, haven’t we?
We’ve all heard the incensed huffs and voiced hurt of someone (let’s be real, usually a woman) who has heard their name and the word “fat” used in the same sentence. Whether or not is was intentionally meant to be hurtful, that word will almost always illicit a reaction.
We’re told from a young age that words hold power, and that’s absolutely true. But, words really only hold as much power as we give them. It’s why we have lists of “bad words” that some people will recoil at while others use them as pretty much every other word. It seems for some, the word “fat” could go right up there with the other f-word. We bend over backwards trying any other word just to avoid saying it.
Before I get too far into this, I’ll address the fact that “fat” has been used maliciously against people; I understand that.** And I’m sorry that it’s happened, but can’t any word be used in such a way? If you change intent, tone, and/or reception, a single word can mean a myriad of things, but we don’t write off all of these words. We use them as we mean them. It’s about time we took “fat” back.
And many have. I’m certainly not the first to suggest this. A lot of people have actually swung the pendulum all the way to the other side. “Fat” has become a glorifying word, and, honestly, I don’t like that any better. I think it’s, as stated in my title, a neutral word. It’s a descriptor, nothing more, like short, tall, blonde, brunette. None of these words are inherently good or bad. They simply describe someone or something, and words like fat or thin should be treated the same.
I’ve come to the point where I actually hate every other word that people come up with: bigger, curvy, chubby, thicker, voluptuous, heavy. I could go on, but you get the point. I hate knowing that these words have been used to describe me, and I’d wager that more often than not, they’ve been said after a hesitation. That someone who was talking about me paused for a second in order to find an alternative to the word we were all already thinking so as to not hurt my feelings.
Again, I understand that it’s all well-intentioned, but it’s kind of an insult to my intelligence. It’s as if I don’t know that I’m fat. In fact, in the only instance that sticks out in my memory of someone maliciously calling me fat, I distinctly remember the way he said it — as if he had outed me, like I thought I was getting away with something, but I couldn’t fool him.
Well, make no mistake. I’m fat. And, yes, that means I’m bigger, curvier, and a lot of those other things. But if you want to make your point, make it. If your intention is to hurt me, I will probably be hurt – not by what you said, necessarily, but by your intention alone. But if your intention is to describe me, I already know me. I know the facts.
**I want to end with a special note to say that for some, this can be a fairly radical idea. Not everyone will be ready to be called fat, matter-of-factly or otherwise. So, please (as with most things), read the room. If what you say will hurt someone despite your intent, rethink it. Above all, be kind and treat each other right.
I hope you all had a stress-free and guilt-free Thanksgiving. Go enjoy those leftovers!