I identify as fat. I live in a fat body, and I face discrimination for it. So why would I use the word "fat"? What could that possibly do for me or for society?
Before I get into why I use "fat" as a descriptor for my body, I want to acknowledge that everyone has the right to choose what language makes sense for them in describing their own body. No one is obligated to use the word fat. But I have found the process of reclaiming the word fat incredibly empowering, for reasons I'll expand on below. These reasons are informed by the work of hundreds of fat activists, both historically and currently.
I’d like to recognize that not every “larger” person (larger than is socially acceptable) is comfortable identifying as “fat”. People in higher weight bodies have experienced a significant amount of discomfort and perhaps even trauma around this word as it has been used to bully and belittle fat people. I am a strong believer in autonomy, and respect people’s choice to identify however they want. As prominent fat activist Ragen Chastain says...everyone is the boss of their own underpants!
If you are uncomfortable with this word, I invite you to sit with the discomfort within your capacity, and gently question why this word is so problematic for you. I also want to recognize that people are at different points in their journey and might never come to a comfortable level with this word. This is okay. It's my job to support you in coming to an improved relationship with your body and body image, which may or may not include using the word "fat".
Lots of fat activists, including me - and even people who don’t consider themselves activists - use this word. They (and I) consider it a descriptor such as “tall” or “short”.
The word itself is not inherently negative. “Fat” as an insult has been socially and culturally created – there is nothing inherently bad or wrong with this word. Culture has made it so it seems as though it is a “bad” or negative thing to be. As Sabrina Strings and others' work has shown, the origin of the negativity associated with this word comes from the ideas that justified the enslavement of Black people. It is a racist origin.
I identify as fat politically, this means that I actively work to de-stigmatize the word by reclaiming it. This word has become a part of my identity. In using a word that has been used against me by other people, but for me most importantly by myself (I used to often berate myself for being "fat"), I take my power back. Using this word helps to take the negative stigma away from it and normalize the word and the reality of being fat. It's okay to be fat.
I use “fat” rather than “obese” or “overweight” to signify my rejection of these medicalized terms which have been used to pathologize me and justify my oppression. Weight stigma in healthcare is very real and using words that are part of the arbitrary "BMI" scale only services to pathologize fat even further.
This process is HARD!!! Just because I’ve reclaimed this word doesn’t mean it still doesn’t occasionally hurt me. Honestly, most often when it hurts me I’m using it in a derogatory way against myself. I strive to question myself when this occurs. I recognize that I continue to swim in the waters of diet culture and anti-fatness, I’m surrounded by it and breaking out of this mindset requires constant commitment to doing so.
What do you think about this word? What's your relationship to it? Do you think there's some value in reclaiming it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
If you want support to reclaim fat, or to process your own internalized anti-fatness, book a free 20 minute Discovery Call with me. We can talk about your own thoughts and feelings about this word, and I can help you recognize and work through how anti-fatness is impacting your relationship with your body and yourself.