Why Use the Word Fat

As I start to write about fat acceptance, one big question some people might have is, “Why use the word fat?” Shouldn’t it be called size acceptance or body acceptance or something like that? And instead of calling people fat, shouldn’t we say plus-sized, curvy, big-boned, heavy, or something like that?

First, some people do use other terms for their activism. “Size acceptance” is common. I prefer to stick with fat acceptance, so that my meaning is clear. Size acceptance could refer to accepting the sizes of all people. While many fat acceptance activists are very committed to addressing judgments of thin bodies, too, I like to keep the spotlight on fat people. “Body acceptance” could be about accepting all kinds of bodies, like disabled bodies, the bodies of elderly people, or any number of other ways to value the different bodies people come in. But again, if the main topic is specifically the bodies of fat people, I like to keep that focus at the forefront.

Now how about calling people fat? There are all kinds of other words that people like to use instead of fat: plus-sized, curvy, stout, heavy, shapely, big-boned, etc. These are mostly euphemisms, some of which are not even true for many fat people. Not all fat people are big-boned. If you’re short and fat, you might not even be that heavy. George Carlin said it pretty well:

I use the word “fat.” I use that word because that’s what people are: they’re fat. They’re not bulky; they’re not large, chunky, hefty or plump. And they’re not big-boned. Dinosaurs were big-boned. These people are not overweight: this term somehow implies there is some correct weight… There is no correct weight. Heavy is also a misleading term. An aircraft carrier is heavy; it’s not fat. Only people are fat, and that’s what fat people are! They’re fat!

Plus-sized is a retail term, which is enough reason for me to want to shy away from it! And some of the other euphemisms are down-right weird. I frequent an online forum where it’s popular to call yourself “fluffy”. Um, no.

We’re talking about people who have more fat tissue than other people, which involves a norm that can be different from place to place and time to time. We’re talking about fat. That’s just the right word, and there’s no need to shy away from it.

So what about words like overweight or obese? Those are specific words, but they are medically defined and not always the same as the visual judgments we make or the cultural categories that we push people into. When I post about the medical literature, I’ll use the words underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese a lot, since that’s the defined terms they use.

But as I go forward with posting on this topic, I’m also just going to say fat a lot. Fat acceptance starts with saying, “Yes, I’m fat.” I have brown hair, green eyes, a mole on my right cheek, and I’m fat. It’s just a word, and we all know what it physically indicates.

Well, we mostly know what it indicates. There are actually a lot more people in the fat club than realize it. Do this: take your weight in pounds, multiply that by 703, then divide by your height in inches squared (or just use an online BMI calculator). If the resulting number is 25 or greater, when you hear the words “obesity epidemic” they’re talking about you.

Think about the word fat. Roll it around in your mind, try it on for size, get used to it, and don’t be afraid to say fat, to be fat, if that’s what you are.

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