I remember the exact moment it happened, since it happened about 10 minutes ago. I was watching Strictly Ballroom ("How's your skin, Fran?") and hanging out reading xoJane articles. That's when I saw the headline: "I'd Rather My Daughter Say F#% Than The Other F-Word."
Now, I don't know Andrea Claire. I'm 100% sure she's a really great person. And I do agree with her that we are subjected to unattainable expectations when it comes to beauty -- though I absolutely AM suggesting a fashion revolution because I believe we can talk about beach hair and face masks without relying on marketing that makes women feel like shit. I just think her resolution to ban the word "fat" from her household because it is "mean" is well-intentioned but completely and utterly counterproductive.
Also, you know, it actively contributes to fat hate, thereby perpetuating the very thing she wants to oppose.
See, words mean things.
And "fat" means adipose tissue. "Fat" means "having a lot of adipose tissue." There are no other words that mean precisely those things in precisely those ways.
(Seriously, no fat person is fluffy. Cats are fluffy. Ed's hair is fluffy. My body is fat.)
Because our American culture (and plenty of other cultures, too) seems to be so afraid of fatness, we're also developing a fear of the word itself. I hear people using the more medicalized "obese" like they have any idea what it actually means, and I have to laugh. ("I feel so obese right now." What does that even MEAN?)
There's this sense of vague awareness that calling someone fat can be really mean, but no one unpacks why that is.
Hint: It's not because "fat" is a mean word in and of itself.
It's because our culture has a lot of fat hate roiling around in it like a soup pot. We talk about fat here on xoJane a pretty fair amount, and while I don't always agree with what is being said, it blows my mind that we are having the conversation (most of it productive) in a mainstream, popular, woman's magazine kind of space. I mean, that's serious fucking business, y'all.
There is something incredibly powerful about seeing the word "fat" in print (metaphorical though that print may be in a virtual environment) when it isn't attached to pictures of headless fatties and headlines about my impending death -- and how much I'm costing society just by existing. It's almost like feeling that our culture doesn't want to eradicate me and my body.
That's not a message I get anywhere else.
I use the word "fat" a whole hell of a lot. I use it so often that the predictive text on my cell phone inserts "fat" even when I mean "day" -- which leads to tweets like "What I am going to do on this beautiful fat?"
Some friends and I even call each other "Fatty" -- as in, "Hey, Fatty! Come eat this food with me." Or whatever. Fatties do a lot of different things.
It's amazing to watch people's reactions when we do that in public. It's a little performative, because I think it's valuable for people to hear the word used in positive ways. It's why I love being out in public with other fat people in the first place; there's something shocking about a flesh mob.
I embrace the word "fat" because it is an accurate descriptor of me and my body. My body is fat. I am fat. The word doesn't hurt me because it is MY WORD. I own it as much as any person can own a word that sums up the majority of their physical existence.
When Andrea Claire says that "fat" is a mean word and that no one should use it, she invalidates my existence as an actual factual fat person. I'm not saying she needs to identify as fat -- especially because she does not, to my eye, look fat at all. (The standards for fatness are quite different throughout Asia, and there's also stuff about general body type going on there because she is a foreigner.)
But if a person who is not fat is going to go around talking about how "fat" is a bad word, I am actually going to step up and tell her to step off. Sorry that a four-year-old hurt your feelings, Andrea Claire. But "fat" is only a bad thing because you continue to believe it is an insult.
My body is not an insult.
People who react strongly to "fat" would do well to examine why they react with such strong negativity to being called fat. Yes, it is absolutely a word that has been weaponized. But since a whole lot of us are actually walking around in bodies that literally cannot be described accurately without the word "fat," maybe people shouldn't be so willing to throw the word out -- especially without addressing the underlying connotations fed by cultural assumptions.
I want you to do something for me. I want you to say the word "fat." Right where you are, sitting or standing or running around or whatever. Wherever you are reading this.
Fat. Fat fat fat fat fat.
It's a Dick and Jane kind of word, one of the easy words to sound out because it rhymes with all sorts of things and has a predictable and safe phonemic structure.
It's an AWESOME word.
Doing away with the word doesn't do anything but erase my existence. So I want you to say it. I want you to say it whether you are fat or thin or somewhere in between. Because otherwise it will only ever be used as a weapon with which to hurt people.
Do you want a few rules? I know saying it makes some people nervous so I will give you the safety of some guidelines with my plea for you to say "fat" all the time.
1. Don't sneer when you say it.
Fat isn't a nasty thing. You don't have to take that tone with it like it's an insult. You don't have to whisper it like it's a dirty word and you are at church. Smile when you say it, like you're answering the phone and you want to sound like you are genuinely happy to hear from whatever person is on the other end. (That really does work, by the way.)
2. If you are thin, wait for permission before applying it to your friends.
Use it to describe fat little dogs and that kid in the park who looked like they were having such an awesome time. But there's a possibility that your fat friends won't be entirely comfortable with the word yet. In fact, your fat friends might have only ever heard it as an insult meant to make them feel like disappearing. Alternately, your fat friends might have very strong political feelings about the word and not want anyone outside of the fat community to use it.
Please respect their wishes on that one. You can call me fat all day, though. I'm giving you permission to say, "Oh, yeah, Marianne? I know her. She's that fat lady on the Internet."
3. If you are fat, use it instead of euphemistic language.
"Overweight" bugs the shit out of me. Over what weight? I will stick with plain old "fat" as my descriptor. It's less medicalized (because I'm not really into being pathologized anyway) and it's more accessible. Also, it's accurate. We reclaim the word by acknowledging it, owning it. We're fat. Let's just call it like it is, you know?
You should all know I'm a giant nerd by now. So perhaps it will not come as such a surprise when I quote Hermione Granger, the greatest witch of her age: "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself."
Fear of the word fat only increases fear of fat itself. Fat. Fat. Fat.