It’s the stupidest argument, every time. It’s a reflexive thing, the thing people say because it’s scripted that way. It needs to be said, and I am no longer convinced it is even supposed to be for my benefit. It has more in common with an elegy or a prayer, spoken by the penitent and the fearful.
This must be what talking to a flat-earther feels like, I think, not for the first time. The willful disbelief of what was right in front of them. The conspiracy theory that was my body.
“Oh, you’re not fat! You’re so pretty,” they tell me, or something of a similar ilk. The formula is as follows: “you are not fat,” followed by a backhanded compliment like: “You have such a pretty face,” “You’re not, like, fat fat,” or “You’re not thin, but you’re not fat!”
The notion of being fat and pretty at the same time does not seem to occur to them; as if fat is some kind of bodily cuckoo, pushing all attractiveness out through my pores to make more room for itself.
In some ways, this dumbass conversation is not their fault. This is the response they are trained to give when hearing someone describe themselves as fat. Because fat is treated as objectively bad, it’s like calling yourself stupid or ugly. The thing the listener is supposed to do is refute your self-deprecation. Isn’t this kindness?!
This is the cognitive dissonance: fat, despite what we are trained to believe, isn’t bad. It isn’t an insult. It’s a feature. That’s it.
But “fat” doesn’t function as a meager adjective to describe a body type. It is the panic we associate with stepping onto the scale. It is the fear we feel in a two-piece swimsuit. It is the need to be seen and acknowledged when we adopt a new diet or start a new workout routine. It’s the transformation of fat, becoming less a body and more a feeling (ever said/heard someone say, “I feel fat” after eating a large meal or skipping a workout?). Instead of describing a body type, fat becomes a state of mind: a guilt-trip for the diet-driven.
It is our obsession with weight and the horror we feel when someone implies we are anything but thin.
And, in turn, it is the weird, twisted way we refuse to accept it when others describe themselves as fat. We have a cultural inability to see the word “fat” as anything other than negative or insulting. So calling myself fat inevitably leads to the most boring and predictable fight imaginable: me, acknowledging the body that I have, and someone else pretending that I have some other, smaller body.
This is so ingrained in all of us that we bend over backwards to describe fat bodies as anything but. Curvy and plus size are at least fairly normal, but then there are stranger ones, like *shudder* fluffy.
Please, don’t ever call me fluffy unless I’ve wrapped my entire body in taffeta and feathers.
In order to overcome this, we have to reevaluate the word “fat,” as well as examine our own fatphobia. Why is this simple, single-syllable word so triggering? What can we do to reclaim it?
Firstly, we have to stop demonizing fatness. “Fat” is not a four letter word; it isn’t an insult. It isn’t a feeling. And it shouldn’t be derogatory.
Personally, reclaiming “fat” as a description of my body has been helpful for unpacking my own internalized fatphobia. For fat folx, there is often a disconnect between our selves and our bodies. This is because we are taught to see our bodies as problems that need to be corrected.
This makes it nigh impossible to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. So we are often the ones avoiding the use of the word “fat.” We refer to our bodies only when necessary, dancing around that dreaded 3-letter word and utilizing euphemisms in hushed tones.
We do this in part because describing our bodies as “fat” is tantamount to admitting some godawful sin. It’s the same kind of fear we have as eating in public; if someone catches us eating, they’ll associate the act with our large bodies.
So we become just as guilty of pretending as anyone else. Sometimes more so. For me, admitting to my size was liberating. It helped me overcome a lot of the shame I had surrounding my body. And it helped me realize that my body wasn’t a work in progress. There is nothing wrong with fat; the word and the body type. A fat body is not a body that needs to be fixed. Fat, as it turns out, can just be an adjective.