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You may have seen this woman talking about how fat people are awesome. She compares fat people to turkeys and skinny people to Chihuahuas and somehow she feels that works out in fat people’s favor.
Here’s the deal -- neither all skinny people nor all Chihuahuas are mean. And not all fat people are awesome, some are jerks. See, fat people are a diverse group of people who have only a single physical characteristic in common -- it’s like saying all people who wear black socks are boring.
Fat is a physical descriptor, but people treat it as if it’s the magical key to knowing (and judging) every fat person. Society has attached all kinds of judgments and negativity to the word “fat.” It just so happens that there’s another word for making judgments about people based on how they look -- and that word is "bigotry."
Two interactions that I commonly have may help draw the situation into sharper relief:
In the first, I’m on the phone with someone I’ve not yet met and we are planning a business meeting. In order to help them identify me I say, “I’ll be the fat brunette in the blue dress.” Roughly seven times out of ten they will respond, “Don’t call yourself fat!” Not once in my life has anyone ever said, “Don’t call yourself brunette!” There should be no difference between the two descriptions; they're both simple, visible physical characteristics.
In the second interaction, I describe myself as fat and someone pipes up, “You’re not fat!” Okay, dude. I’m 5’4 and about 300 pounds. I’m fat. On the (ridiculous) BMI Chart, I’m classified as Super Obese -- meaning my fatness should come with a cape and a secret identity. Get it together, -- I’m totally "fat."
When someone tells me that I’m not fat it’s usually not because they are delusional. Sometimes it’s a reflex. Saying “I’m fat” can seem like the price of admission for being a woman because we must never be happy with our bodies, we must never think we are thin enough. So, sometimes a woman will say “I’m so fat” just hoping that someone will say “no you're not” and she will be able to feel better about herself for a minute. Other women understand this and so “You’re not fat” becomes the equivalent of “bless you.” This is how people survive in a seriously screwed up world where self-hatred is ingrained in us and an impossible stereotype of beauty is imposed upon us. It’s understandable. But it doesn't make it a good idea.
Often, when someone says “you’re not fat,” what they mean is “you aren't all those stereotypes about fat people.” The problem with this is that instead of realizing that they make assumptions about fat people, and choosing to examine them critically (yay!), they make the person they're talking to the “exception” so they can continue to harbor stereotypes and judgments about fat people (boo!).
Every time someone tells me “Don’t call yourself fat” or “You’re not fat” what they're saying is that who I am is not ok -- that’s it’s something to be ashamed of or deny. I don’t think that’s the case. It’s as ridiculous to me as someone saying “Don’t call yourself brunette” or “You’re not short!” I understand that not every person who might be described as fat likes to use the word (because of all of the judgments attached to it and the way it’s hurled at us like an insult). I’m not suggesting that you greet the next person of size you see with a hearty “HEY, WHAT UP FATTY?” What I’m saying is that it’s absolutely not okay to correct a fat person who chooses to use the word as a physical descriptor, especially because for many of us choose to reclaim the word as a way to tell our bullies that they can’t have our lunch money any more.