Updated: Aug 12
"I feel fat"
Maybe that's true, to a surface extent.
But fat is a loaded word. It's no longer one to me, but I had to deconstruct it (and continue to do so) for years before it lost its potency. Diet culture generates its dominance and longevity by instilling the fear of fat and the idealization of skinny from the moment we can view a screen or read a headline. The body positivity movement worked to reclaim arbitrary descriptors such as "fat" and "skinny," but the deeply laden self-imposed hierarchy remains. The word "fat" is still used as a targeted insult, particularly against women who are so often weighed against one another depending on their aesthetic appeal.
So what does "fat" mean?
Well, take this space to answer that for yourself for a moment. What connotations does being fat have?
Ugly, undesirable, gross, unhealthy, rejected, failure, out of control, unlovable, subhuman, lazy, uneducated,
On the other hand, think of the connotations that come with the word "skinny."
Successful, desirable, elite, prosperous, healthy, in control, wanted, loved, accepted.
Let's focus on the idea of skinny as accepted, and contrarily, fat as rejectable. If that's the idea, and for a lot of us, that is the connotation that we know, then of course you're going to be afraid of fat. Of course you're going to chase after the thin ideal. One of those options involves way less risk of being outcasted, ostracized, and cut off from others. Human beings are social creatures. The basic desire for some level of acceptance or reassurance that we belong is innate and powerful. Problems arise when we prescribe faulty ready-made solutions to non-existent problems, like selling skinny to a healthy, happy individual.
And no, we're not "promoting obesity" here. In fact, we're not promoting any body type, but rather that notion that perhaps these words are not as powerful as we make them out to be.
I used to struggle with recurring, invasive thoughts related to my eating disorder that were spoken in whispers roughly every 10-20 seconds in my mind. One of them was, "you're fat." It was a simple statement, but I'd find my ED mind repeating this phrase at completely random times, several hundred times a day. Usually I would suppress it or replace it with another thought. I realized that I was still being controlled by a fear of becoming fat, and simply ignoring the comment only beckoned it back again. The next time that I heard my ED say, "you're fat" I answered back, "Yes. And?" The results of that simple rebellion were monumental. I kept going. Every 15-30 seconds that invasive thought would pass, and instead of swallowing it down or ignoring it, I would sit with it. I would sit with what I had been trained to believe was the worst possible outcome. What I quickly discovered is that the worst possible outcome was actually a completely arbitrary descriptor that bore no more weight then did "brunette."
Imagine how your larger friend feels when you're saying you hate feeling how they look. Your biggest fear is looking like them. The sentiment of fat phobia is very real and absolutely valid; it's a trained response, and one that we continue to perpetuate when we cave into the arbitrary social hierarchy of fat vs. skinny. What's harmful is when we allow that fat phobia to make us not only dislike our own bodies, but the bodies of others held in constant comparison. Fat people are not a scape goat for broken self esteem. They're not a designated last place, or a D.U.F.F. While you may experience fear and negativity around the word fat, to "feel fat" is to feel like you belong in that invisible inferior category, where real people exist and thrive everyday.
There is of course the feeling of fat as a physical sensation. But fat is too often used synonymously with other phrases much more vulnerable. When someone describes their emotional state within the context of "fat," they usually mean to say I feel unworthy. I feel gross. I feel unlovable. I feel unwanted. All the words associated with the word "fat." What if we neutralized its power? What if instead of turning an internal hurt toward our body, we became more tender, more compassionate, more gentle with our physical selves? Sounds unnatural, but the most backward part of it all is that "fat" and "skinny" stay loaded words with enough ammunition to vanquish our esteem in a single spiral.
Words carry weight. They possess meaning beyond their linguistic structure. To pretend "fat" and "skinny" don't hold significant cultural sway is to grotesquely oversimplify the human experience. We are social creatures. We want to know what group we belong to, what side to stand on, where our community is, and how others see us within the greater picture. However, our bodies were never meant to be a criteria with which to punish, chastise, shame, and torture ourselves for failing to fit into a particular category. Especially when said categories are entirely made up by us. We wrote a definition of beauty, and then wrote ourselves out of it. I see in myself and in others an opportunity to rewrite that narrative once more, and broaden the concept of beauty to include health across a wide spectrum of sizes. There is so much to unravel together, and with it, so much to put back together. I believe with time and a concentrated commitment from those who are tired of the loaded implications behind "fat" and "skinny," we can rewrite a definition of health and happiness that encompasses all that we offer beyond our body size.