I think about words a lot. Which, I mean, I’m a blogger and a writer and an editor so that might be stating the obvious. I think about words a lot and, by the nature of my activism, one of the words I think about the most is the word fat.
It’s a great word, in my opinion. It’s not a particularly lovely word – I find very few single-syllable words to be lovely, especially those with the short-a sound and the harshness of that consonant t. (Exceptions all involve th – mouth and thigh being particularly glorious.) No, fat is one of the basics, one of the learning-to-read words. It’s cat and bat and hat and sat and mat and so on. It’s one of those words that is so intrinsic to our English-speaking mouths that we don’t think about it; it just comes chopping out from the space between our front teeth.
Fat is adipose tissue. When a noun is modified by “fat,” an adjective, it’s a descriptor; it signifies that the noun possesses comparatively more adipose tissue than a thinner version of that noun. It’s a word steeped in comparison and contrast. It’s not a binarism – fat and thin do not oppose each other, as much as some folks try to reduce the multiplicity of bodies and body types to such a simple, inaccurate head-to-head (pound-for-pound?) competition. Fat and thin both are part of a spectrum. The center point is not an arbitrary Ideal Body Weight: it’s just one more point.
That’s why I object to “overweight” as a descriptor. Over what weight? The weight other people think I should be even though they have no experience with my body composition beyond looking at me? The weight a BMI chart says I should be? The weight a fashion magazine thinks I should be? The only thing I’m over is all the effort to Other my body.
There are lots of other words people use. Curvy, chubby, stout, voluptuous, zaftig, fluffy, big-boned, thick, and so on. But they don’t really describe my body in a meaningful way when I want to talk about my particular body experience.
Sure, my body is curvy. But that speaks more to the profundity of my ass and the size of my breasts. It doesn’t say a damn thing about my body composition – especially since, really, curvy is a thing women (and other genders) of any weight can be. Curvy has become code for a very specific kind of fat and I am not that kind of fat. It’s not the word for me.
Chubby is, apart from also being a slang term from my youth for an erection, just plain wrong when it comes to scale. (You see what I did there?) If chubby is meant to indicate a certain specific, moderate level of fat, well, am I extra chubby? Extra extra chubby? It’s not a bad word. But it’s not the word for me.
There are a lot of vintage Lane Bryant ads, and ads from other catalogs, that advertise clothing for the stout woman. There is something, I think, very evocative about the word stout. It conjures up, for me, particularly British matrons with flowers on their hats and sensible, thick-heeled pumps. Basically, the Queen of England is stout. It’s awesome. And there’s something very solid about it, something that inspires confidence, I think. But, again, it’s not really an accurate descriptor for me.
Voluptuous and zaftig – they’re both efforts to glamorize bodies of size. Voluptuous might as well be curvy for all it’s a damn euphemism, for all it’s only applied to certain figures. And zaftig, which really is a phenomenal word is just an effort to make it sound better – as though fat in English isn’t good enough. Both voluptuous and zaftig have been applied to me, and I dig them, but I don’t dig them as community-wide descriptors because I don’t think we should be ashamed to speak plainly when it comes to our bodies.
I am not a goddamn Persian cat; I am not fluffy. Seriously, y’all.
Similarly, big-boned has got fuck all to do with my body. I mean, yeah, I have bones. And because bodies vary, in every way imaginable, some people’s bones really are larger and/or heavier than other people’s bones. That is really interesting. But it doesn’t determine how much fat I have. At best, it’s an apologetic excuse for just being larger than everyone (taller, sometimes); at worst, it’s an excuse founded in extreme embarrassment about body size.
Thick is a really interesting term to me. But, uh, yeah, I’m thicker than thick is supposed to be, I think. There’s nuance there with which I’m not entirely familiar – it seems to get applied to a lot of women who aren’t fat at all to me, they just have hips and thighs. Pear-shaped women, if we’re using fruit. Mmmmmmm, fruit.
There are plenty of other words that have been thrown my way over the years. But, for my linguistic energy, fat is still the best thing out there. It’s not a fancy word but I don’t need it to be. It’s one of the first words we learn to read; it’s basic. It’s as basic as “This is my body.” My body is many things. My body is fat.
The objection, of course, is that fat is used as an insult, is used to tear people down. It’s a successful insult because of the cultural perception that fat is bad.
I tell you what, my fat is not bad. It isn’t morally wrong, nor is it poorly behaved. It simply is. I’m not afraid of my fat and so I am not afraid of the word. “You’re fat,” (or, more commonly from trolls, “Your fat”) is a statement of fact, not an insult. Why, yes, yes, I am fat. Isn’t it delightful?
There are friends, generally thin, who cringe when I use the word. They won’t use it. I don’t blame them; they don’t exactly have signs over their heads proclaiming them okay and not being insulting, after all. But I’m going to keep using it, repeating it, saying it all the damn time. I’m going to keep normalizing it. It’s a normal word! It’s fat!
A lovely word? It doesn’t need to be. It’s better than lovely. Let’s use it some more.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized
. Bookmark the permalink
. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post
or leave a trackback: Trackback URL