Our society has a very complicated relationship with the word “fat.” You’ve probably heard it used as an insult, as a micro-aggression, and exploited by the diet industry as a shaming tool. You’ve probably also heard it used as a tool for prejudice. You’ve likely heard others run from the term by using (supposedly) less “offensive” language, like “chubby” or “pudgy.” We all know, from years of social conditioning, that calling someone “fat” is an insult.
Or is it?
Feminists have, for a long time, been critical of the body-negative society that we live in. We’ve pioneered the body-positive movement, and we’ve recognized the oppression that people of size face. For many, reclaiming the word “fat” is simply taking this activism a step further. But transitioning from body shame to openly identifying as fat or fat-positive is often filled with complications.
A lot of these complexities are due to the fact that we live in a very fatphobic society, which means that it is not anywhere close to acceptable to be fat and that thinness is constantly being sold to us as not only the ideal, but our only option.
Because of this deep-seated stigma attached to the word “fat,” and because of the ways in which it’s been used against people of size systematically, reclaiming the word can be an empowering experience – especially for women (and women of size who have more intersecting marginalized identities), since the intersection of gender and fatness creates a double bind.
Just like other movements have reclaimed words that are systematically used against them (like feminists and the C-word or the LGBTQIA+ community using “queer”), taking back a term that has been used against you is an action in taking back your power.
There can be power in reclamation.
The problem is that even though you may reclaim the word “fat,” social conditioning runs deep. And others may still find the word offensive and work to convince you of the same.
No one ever said it was going to be easy, but there are ways to work toward demanding fat-positivity from your friends and family.
After all, taking care of yourself should always be your number-one priority.
Putting an End to Toxicity
There’s no doubt that you are going to hear fatphobic comments and language from other people. But that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. There are probably people in your life whom you love and respect who don’t live a body-positive life. There are probably others whom you could live without.
You can intervene in a situation where you hear fatphobic language or in a relationship with someone who’s extremely fatphobic, but you need to have a game plan. Call out people who use this language around you in your life.
There are various ways to do this and it’s good to be mindful, according to your setting, the relationship you have with the other person, and what specifically they said. If you know that you’re not one for confrontation, send them a message on Facebook or an email. If you’re quick-witted, have an honest conversation.
In terms of ending relationships with people who don’t respectfully respond to you, or you don’t feel comfortable being around, be mindful, but be prepared to do this. With some people, ending communication is the best option for self-preservation.
Because you deserve to be respected.
Holding Your Ground
One of the hardest parts of this transition, though, can be holding your ground. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is one of the best ways to hold yourself, and others, accountable. Even though it’s hard and even though it might hurt, focus on fostering positive relationships. Keep the promises you’ve made to yourself in the name of self-care. You can even practice your response to boundary breakers in the mirror!
Let’s say that a particularly fatphobic friend calls you and invites you to lunch, and you’ve committed to stop spending time with this person, as their attitudes make you uncomfortable. You may feel obligated and guilty for saying no on the spot. This is where having a prepared statement can help.
It should be something simple that gets to the point, like “Thanks for thinking of me, but I just don’t feel comfortable doing ________ at the moment.” Or “I appreciate you asking me to _______, but I can’t say yes right now, due to some changes I’m making in my life.”
Sticking to your guns can be one of the hardest things to do. But it’s going to allow you to live the fat-positive life you’re destined to lead.
Even though you’ll probably have to respond to those who are uncomfortable with your fat acceptance, having boundaries in place and sticking to them are the keys to fostering healthy relationships with people who encourage and accept your fatness.
When you assert your fat-girl self, you are interrupting fatphobia.
Changing the Conversation
So how can we start changing these conversations around fat in the bigger picture? How can we start changing our own language as a society? Well, we have the power to pave our own paths and to start challenging the stigma that exists in our culture. When we’re reclaiming the label of “fat,” there’s a lot of activism to be done!
One of the best ways to interrupt fatphobia is to change the conversations you hear happening that are based in fatphobic ideas. When you hear your friends talk about someone’s weight gain, change the conversation (or better yet, start talking about why weight gain is even something worth talking about!).
When you see an offensive ad, start a petition or share it on the #NotBuyingIt app.
When you see fatphobic language, on the internet or in real life, call it out.
Every time you speak out, you are embracing fatness.
We have to start interrupting the people who are interrupting us.
Cutting fatphobic language out of your life is not going to be an easy process. Because of how fatphobic our society is, there’s going to be backlash to face. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth facing. Because we know that language has power, and changing ourselves is the first step to changing the world. So be the change you want to see.