Reclaiming the Word "Fat" and other "Bad" Words

Fabulously fat me, dressed up as Morticia

I needed to go clothing shopping and asked in a local Facebook group where I could find a clothing store for fat women. And in addition to a lot of helpful suggestions I got so many comments about my choice of language.
  • "Plus size women. Not fat women."
  • "Why the term Fat women? Larger sized women please!"
  • "Can't we just say plus-sized? So much less demeaning."
I specifically use the term fat.

I am fat.

At  5'9 and 285 lbs, fat is a perfectly accurate descriptor. I'm fat. I'm tall. I'm blue eyed, straight brown haired, lightly freckled, myopic (need glasses), and a woman. Those describe me. They are all facts. Descriptors. None of them are either positive or negative. They are neutral. 

Descriptors are only negative if you make them that way. Otherwise, they are neutral.

The first thing that came to mind as another example was using the word black to describe a person. For a long time the N word was used for Black people, literally meaning black, but because it was said with such derision, it became an insult. Then people wanted to not use a word about someone's skin color to describe them and switched to "African American", but over time that word is less used because it doesn't even accurately describe many Black people. The Black community has reclaimed the word Black (just please capitalize it), and no, it is not offensive. (Some of them have even reclaimed the N word, but only to use within their circles, as they decided to take a word that was used to hurt them and take it back along with the power to hurt them using it. But that is just for Black people to do, no one else is allowed to use the word.) The word Black is simply a descriptor, not positive or negative, totally neutral. 

However, if you say the word with derision, obviously it is problematic, but the derision is the problem, not the word itself. Additionally, if you use the word in conjunction with a negative stereotype about Black people, that would be racist, and then, that word shouldn't be used. (I'm not going to list racist tropes here, just fill in the blank "Black ____".)

Disabilities are similar. In the past, many disabled people were locked up in homes, and not allowed to interact with the world. Seen as a burden by society, and talked about only in hushed voices. Disability was seen as a bad thing. People trying to be better people decided that people shouldn't be described as disabled, but rather as "with a disability", because disability was still seen as a bad thing, and they were trying to differentiate and show that they see the person as a real person, and not as their "bad thing", their disability. 

Overall, in more recent history, the disability community (and especially the Autistic community) has stood up and said that they aren't on board with that. By trying to separate people from their disability, they were still thinking negatively about disabilities, and the issue is with people and how they treat people's disabilities, not the disabilities themselves. Additionally, it erases how much disabilities can affect someone's entire life, making it a central part of them. So now the preferred term is disabled people and autistic people.

Religious identities are also just neutral descriptive terms, whether talking about Muslim, Jewish, pagan, etc... (I haven't heard Christian used as an insult, but perhaps in some circles it would be too.) While there is nothing wrong with using those as descriptors about someone, if linked to a stereotype the group is stigmatized for, then it turns those words negative. 

Ok, for this I am going to use examples, sorry for my inconsistencies within this post. Talking about a domestic violence sitiation and referring to someone as an abusive Muslim man is wrong, and turns Muslim into a negative word, especially since the word Muslim is being used to emphasize how bad it is, since "you all know that Muslims are abusers". Talking about bargain hunters and mentioning "cheap Jews" is wrong, because it is stereotyping Jews as being greedy money hoarders, and Jew is only brought up to show "just how bad their "cheapness" is. Talking about immoral people and bringing up their paganism is using a negative stereotype that specifically says that pagan people are lacking morals. I hope this explains why the words Muslim, Jew, and pagan, though neutral at their core, still can be seen as an insult, but only are when used as described above.

Back to fatness.

People see fat as a negative thing. Society has stigmatized fat people with so many negative stereotypes. 
  • Lazy. 
  • Gross. 
  • Ugly. 
  • Gluttonous. 
  • Unhealthy. 
  • Having messed up priorities. 
  • Guilty. 
People see fat people and think bad things about us. We must be fat because we eat so much. We're fat because we're too lazy to exercise and too lazy to make an effort to go on a diet. We are fat and therefore don't take care of our bodies, so we must smell and be all sorts of gross. Fat people are unattractive and no one wants a fat person, so we're ugly. We are obviously all unhealthy because we are fat, we make unhealthy life choices, and are obviously all going to die young because of our unhealthy life choices. Our priorities are quite clearly skewed, or we would have done something already about our fatness. And of course, we're guilty, because being fat is completely our fault.

These are all nasty and untrue myths. There are many reasons why someone can be fat, and how much or what someone eats can have nothing to do with it at all. Medication can make someone fat, so specifically taking care of your health can cause you to be fat. Other health issues can cause someone to gain weight, so fatness can be a symptom of a health issue, not the cause. Fat people often exercise a lot and eat healthier diets than many skinny people. Fat people take care of our bodies and don't stink, and there are many people attracted to fat people, we aren't ugly. And of course, many times fatness is something that isn't in our control, which makes it clearly not our fault. 

When someone thinks using the word fat is offensive, it's because they think there's something wrong with being fat. That you shouldn't use a mean word about someone. Calling someone fat is only offensive if you see fat as a bad thing. By avoiding to use the word fat to describe someone fat, you're doing the equivalent of people saying "Did you hear about the Smith family? Their son is *whispers* autistic." Can't say the word aloud because it's embarrassing to be that way, so we will use words like "special" instead of disabled, or "pleasantly plump" instead of fat... 

The body positivity movement and specifically the fat acceptance movement has decided to reclaim the word fat. By choosing to use the word fat as a descriptor, by not sidestepping with all sorts of euphamisms such as plus sized, large sized, heavy set, fluffy, full bodied, we are choosing to confront the parts of society that view being fat as a bad thing and fat as a bad word. We emphasize that there is nothing wrong with being fat, by our very usage of that word.

By reclaiming it, we do make people uncomfortable, yes, but this discomfort hopefully will cause people to think about why I, as a fat person, would choose to call myself that. Why a fat person would not be bothered by being called that. Maybe it'll help them, eventually, come around to accepting that being fat isn't a bad thing. It just is. It is as neutral as one's height, eye color, religion, or neurotype.

That doesn't mean it is cool to use the words like "fat pig" or "fat slob" or other terms that get paired with the word fat which encourage stereotypes about fat people.

But fat people clothing stores? Yup, I'll call it that. And when I get pushback to that, I'll keep standing my ground about my usage of the term. 

You have a problem with my calling myself fat? Maybe you need to work on your acceptance of fat people, and on realizing that there isn't anything negative about being fat. Maybe then you'll see that fat isn't a bad word. That it is simply a word.

P.S. Does this mean you should call other women fat who get offended by that word? No. Offending people isn't nice. It doesn't matter how neutral a word is, if you know it offends someone else, you don't use it to describe them. Just be a nice person. But that doesn't mean at the same time you can't be part of the movement to change how society sees the word fat.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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