Thursday, 18 June 2015

Is it Feminist to...Call Yourself Fat?

You’re fat. You’re ugly, disgusting, gross, inhuman, unattractive, vile, unshagable, a
paper-bag-job.  Apologies for the seemingly abusive start but, are all of these synonyms for ‘fat’?  What does it mean to you?  If someone calls you 'fat' or you refer to yourself in that way, in your mind or out loud, what does it really mean?

According to the magic internet dictionary this is what it means-

adjective, fat·ter, fat·test.
1.  having too much flabby tissue; corpulent; obese: a fat person.
2.  plump; well-fed: a good, fat chicken.
3.  consisting of or containing fat; greasy; oily: fat gravy; fat meat.
4.  profitable, as an office: a fat job on the city commission.
5.  affording good opportunities, especially for gain: a fat business contract.

I’m talking about its use as an adjective, rather than a noun, as that is where the problem lies, the description of females as 'fat'.  So number 1 states that 'fat' is having “too much flabby tissue”.  What is too much?  If you are an average woman you will have more than an average man, is that too much?  If you have naturally large breasts and hips you will have more than someone who does not have such sizable body parts – is that too much?  Who is anyone to judge whether another person has too much or little of any given substance in their body?  Too much for what?  Too much to fit in a size 8 (which is arbitrary as there is no regulation amongst retailers in the UK)?  Too much to fit through that doorway?  Too much to be a dancer or gymnast?  Too much to be a human being??

Proof that we come in all shapes and sizes and all are healthy and beautiful.

In our culture calling someone ‘fat’ is not a compliment, it is an insult (unless they are part of fetish culture but then that’s a whole other issue).  The connotations of that insult are that the person you are referring to has too much fat to be considered attractive.  You might mean that they are overweight (which is a very contentious issue as some athletes are considered obese according to their BMI)  e.g. unhealthy which also indicates unattractiveness as we are inherently attracted to people who we think we can reproduce with, and reproduction is tougher if you are unhealthy in any way.  But people that are unhealthy in a variety of ways fall in love and have children every day; there's no insult for someone with poly-cystic ovaries, for example.  It is vital that we have language to describe people's health relating to their weight as we can't shy away from these issues altogether.  But I would argue that 'underweight' and 'overweight' are perfectly servicable and the words 'fat' and even 'skinny' can be discarded for their emotive and offensive connotations.  They both imply something more than just factual information about someone's body shape.  They imply 'too much' or 'too little' and can make people feel bad about themselves unnecessarily. 

Now we all know that it is how you feel that is important; how you feel inside, physically and about your appearance.  We know that we should worship and love and take care of our bodies and that how we look is not really that important.  But the world around us is conveying a different message; any woman that is not a size 8-10 is not really represented in fashion, television, and the media at large which can make even the most secure person start to feel like they are not ‘normal’, that they are not ‘right’, that they are ‘other’; compared to people who are that size most of us are ‘fat’.  Most of us have ‘too much’ if we measure ourselves using that standard.

All of these women are 'real women' and all are beautiful to someone.

The word ‘fat’ is a tool of the media to describe (mostly) women in a sensationalised way in order to sell more magazines and newspapers, and in turn this makes us as readers/observers feel like we need to change to fit in.  That change, strangely enough, involves diet books, gyms, exercise classes, diet meals and membership fees to diet clubs.  Funny that.  It is no coincidence that making you feel shit about yourself leads to them making money.  Women's weight is not the only insecurity created in order to make removal products, I'm looking at you.  It also ties in to the idea that women are more valued for their looks than their thoughts and what they have to say.  If we are not hairless from the neck down, and acceptably slim we are invisible.  Features such as 'the ring of shame' and criticism of female celebrities loss or gain in weight only serves to focus our attention on our own bodies and perceived 'imperfections' linked to being 'fat' like cellulite, stretch-marks and 'muffin-tops', all of which are natural and acceptable features of a human body.

An 'up-yours' to those who criticise your body is the only way.

So next time you think you need to diet (despite being perfectly healthy) or do exercise you don’t enjoy, next time you shy away from wearing something or doing something because you are worried about being too ‘fat’, think this instead; I am a human, with a body and I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks of it (unless they are being nice).  If you are uncomfortable because you know that your weight is affecting your health then change your lifestyle to fit in more movement (that you enjoy) and change your eating habits.  But don’t call yourself ‘fat’.  Your partner, your friends, your family, and anyone who respects you as a human being would not refer to you using that word, so you shouldn’t either.

As Feminists we need to think carefully about the words we use to describe each other, but also the ones we use to describe ourselves.  Don't use these words that have been invented or bastardised by others to provide hurt and insult and make women feel like they are less.  Self-deprecation is a standard human activity but women have many more ways to hate themselves than men; stop the word 'fat' (and 'skinny') from being one of them.

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