Should We Reclaim the Word "Fat?"

It's only an insult if we let it be one

Full disclosure: I have a tendency to use the F word. No, not that F word. (At least, not when small children are in earshot.) But I do say "fat." Sometimes a lot. And fat tends to be synonymous with offensive. When we moan "I'm so fat," we don't mean it affectionately. When a kid gets called fat on the playground, it's not because the other kids think he's that cool. When used this way, fat is an ugly, hurtful word.

But it doesn't have to be. So here's why I think we should reclaim fat.

For starters, fat (unlike many derogatory terms) has other meanings. It's an essential (and tasty!) macronutrient. It's also, as Ragen Chastein of Dances With Fat points out, just your basic adjective: "When I’m having a meeting with someone I’ve not met I tell them 'I’m a short, fat, brunette.' Plenty of people have told me 'Oh, don’t call yourself fat!' but nobody has ever said 'Oh, don’t call yourself brunette!' I purposefully use fat as a descriptor because I think it’s important for me to reclaim the word with no negative charge."

It's only our thin-obsessed culture that has decided fat is the opposite of everything good and beautiful. In many other cultures, fat women are the local Megan Foxes. Skinny is the insult there. This isn't better -- I want a world where we don't use any body shape as a form of judgment. But it does take some of the power away from the word when you stop to think about its other connotations.

For example, one of my best friends uses "fatty" as a term of endearment. She and her college roommate have called each other these funny, fat-based nicknames for years. The best part? They are not at all the same size. For them, fat isn't even about size anymore. It means, "Remember how fun college was? And also, "I love you." 

I respect that not everyone wants to march in the Fat Pride Parade. Maybe the word just brings up too many bad memories for you. I get it. I struggle with that knee-jerk "fat equals bad" response all the time. Just yesterday, I was looking at a stack of photos from a recent family party. It was the first beautiful day of the season and we're all laughing and having a fine time in every shot. And all I could think, as I flipped through, was "I have fat arms." Actually, it was more like, "fatarmsfatarmsfatarms." The thoughts just bubbled up from that critical place inside that offers such information, unbidden.  

But I want to not have that response. I'm working hard to catch those thoughts and replace them with something positive like, "but now my arms can do push-ups!" because until recently, push-ups made me want to die.

And I think turning fat into a positive, or at least neutral, word is critical to that process. If we stuff fat in the closet and never speak of it again, we'll only feel good about our bodies when they're thin. And that's not very fair, because your body is always your body. And all of it -- fat or thin -- deserves better.

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