FAT: Using The Other F Word

I use the word “fat” to describe myself, and not in a humorous way, or a self-deprecating way. I use it because it’s true.
Publish date:
September 30, 2011
fat, self esteem, body politics, language, radical anti-diet extremism

Before I turned up here on xoJane, writing about depressing television and video games, I was mostly Internet-famous for being fat. I’m being glib: rather, I am probably best known for talking about fat, specifically for talking about fat as a cultural construct in a critical way, and about individual fat bodies in a positive way.

You know how many people talk about fatness publicly in a non-disparaging manner? Very few. They are mostly bloggers. It’s easy to dismiss ideas that are only being seriously discussed in small corners of the Internet; it’s easy to put them down as dangerous or cult-like or absurd. Even when people benefit from them.

While I can’t claim to speak for anyone other than myself, but in my case, learning to use the word “fat” has been a critical part of my overall campaign for awesomeness in every corner of my life.

Whether or not weight loss is physically possible for me is no longer a subject I find interesting. Many of us who choose to give up dieting get very wrapped up in the question of whether diets “work,” or whether permanent weight loss is statistically likely for a majority of individuals. This is understandable, as giving up dieting -- especially giving up dieting when you are a legitimate, no-holds-barred Fat Person -- is the equivalent of thumbing one’s nose against what we’re told is good for us, and for our health. It’s a little crazy, a little rebellious.

Too often, saying no to diets is misread as saying no to health, when for many people, giving up dieting is the healthiest possible choice they could make. Some folks diet to feel healthy, and that’s fine, if it works for you. But some folks stop dieting to feel healthy, and that is OK too.

It hasn’t been that hard for me. For the last 10 years, my weight has not changed appreciably no matter what my daily routine has been. I stopped gaining weight shortly after I stopped dieting. From sedentary lifestyles to religious health club attendance, from vegetarianism to the Wendy’s Baconator, it makes no difference: My size does not budge.

While my rock-steady weight may well change at some point in my life, as of today I am that annoying person who can eat whatever she wants, live however she wants and not gain weight. The missing detail, of course, is that the weight I’m stuck on is approximately 300 pounds.

I am pretty unusual in this experience, I realize. I read that recent study which found that middle-aged women must exercise 60 minutes every day simply to MAINTAIN their weight (the same study also found that women who are already fat cannot lose weight with exercise alone, in a revelation that seems to have shocked the world but which was totally unsurprising to everyone I know). I read it and I thought about all the middle-aged ladies so invested in not gaining weight as they age, and the crushing realization that more and more of their lives will have to be dedicated to this goal, instead of, say, taking a photography class, or learning martial arts.

“Fat,” historically and culturally, is associated with a lack of discipline and self control, so it’s hardly surprising that we tend to assume that all fat people are constantly expanding at ever-increasing rates, not unlike the universe. Certainly, it’s true for some people, but it is no more true of all fat people than it is true that all skinny people subsist exclusively on Diet Coke and cigarettes.

Assumptions are ugly; we take that road when we are too lazy to consider that everyone is an individual with a particular experience, and just because it is comfortable to assume that all X do Y, that doesn’t make it true. We all acknowledge that we’ve known skinny people who eat voraciously and cannot gain weight; what you didn’t realize is that you’ve probably also known fat people who can’t lose weight no matter how commited they are to self-starvation.

This is the same conventional wisdom that tells us that fatness is unnatural -- that no one can be fat unless they are actively working toward that end. Fatness, we’re told, is an aberration, not a permanent state of being. When we hear the word, our kneejerk response is always to dismiss it; when someone says “I am so fat,” we are all well-trained to respond in the negative.

This is one reason why I enjoy the word. Using the word “fat” in definitive, conclusive tones has a ring of permanence about it. I am fat. No, really, I am, and please don’t tell me I’m not. Don’t tell me I’m “not, like, OBESE” either, because I am also obese by the medical definition. Don’t tell me that at least I’m not like the intervention-requiring fat people trapped in their beds either, because those fat people are still people, and they don’t deserve to be held up as inhuman boogeymen to underscore the horrors that manifest from unrepentant fattery.

Don’t give me a list of manufactured reasons why it’s “OK” that I am fat -- because you know me, because you like me, because I bust stereotypes, because I have a lot of self-confidence, because I don’t gross you out, because I am somewhat intelligent -- so you can still remain comfortably assured that it’s not OK for all those other unpleasant fat people.

Lots of people are very hung up on this word. Lots of people have been beaten with this word as with a verbal cudgel, by parents, partners, family and friends. We are socially very invested in this word being a bad word, a word we only use as an insult or a condemnation. I’m sure many of you cannot conceive of a circumstance in which you could EVER be OK using this word.

However, I like “fat” precisely because it makes people so uncomfortable: Hearing it in non-standard contexts, not as an insult, but as a simple descriptor (like “tall”) forces us to think about the language we use, and what it means.

I like “fat” because, by making it a word a I use (and relish at every opportunity), when some douchebag takes it upon his- or herself to remind me of what a great massive whale I am by calling me fat, it doesn’t hit me like it used to.

Now I just nod and smile. Yes, I am fat. Odds are good that I will never -- short of a devastating illness, which I can reasonably hope will never happen -- be thin. I am fat in a full-time sense, and I am totally OK with my fatness.

I realize that seems impossible, but it’s true, and impossible things happen every day. Learning to love the word “fat” was a critical aspect of learning to love myself -- I don’t fear it and I don’t hate it because I neither fear nor hate my own body. My body is the only one I get, and I’d rather spend my life appreciating it rather than fighting it.