Terms of Fatness

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Yesterday Remittance Girl wrote a magnificent piece titled Now That I’m Fat. There is plenty I could say about this piece, but I am in almost complete agreement, and reiterating what she said seems like a waste of my and your time. So please just go and read her article. However, there is one aspect which RG seemed to touch upon, but which I would like to talk about in a little more depth. Her piece opens with this paragraph:

I actually hate the abundance of cute little words to describe overweightness: plump, rounded, curvy, roly-poly, rubenesque, generous, BBW, padded, comfortable, chunky…adipose-enhanced? I despise them all. Having too many words for something is always a good clue that it’s a socially uncomfortable reality we don’t want to deal with.

I do not have the problem RG has with these words. I actually like and use them liberally. However, they are still problematic. Culturally words like ‘plump’ and ‘curvy’ are used to avoid the word ‘fat’ but in reality this just lends more negative power to it. The thing is, ‘fat’ is just a word, and one of the many things I adore about RG’s article is how many time she says ‘fat’. She doesn’t use it derogatorily, or in a complimentary way, she simply states it as truth. The word ‘fat’ is a descriptor and we need to stop endowing it with negative connotations. Let’s just call a spade a spade. I am fat.

And it is not just the thin police who give ‘fat’ a bad name. It is a word I have used many times to describe myself, and many times it has been answered with a chorus of “You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” as though the two are mutually exclusive. They absolutely are not. ‘Fat’ is just a descriptor; it is not a value judgement. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Dawn French, Beth Ditto, Nikki Blonksy, all of these women are fat. All of these women are also gorgeous.

Having said that, I also want to say a word for people who won’t date fat girls – and I’m purposefully addressing overweight females because I believe the issue for males is a little different. There are, to my mind, two kinds of people who will reject you for your weight. The first are those who feel it would harm their social status to be seen dating an overweight person. This is high-school type prejudice and anyone who feels that insecure about their standing is, honestly, not someone you want to be around. So don’t sweat it. I actually mentioned being honest about your weight in my piece about filling out your OkCupid profile, and this is why. Consider these your lucky escapes. The second group are people who are simply not attracted to overweight girls. This is perfectly acceptable. Being honest about who you are attracted to is a good thing. I turn OkCupid messages down on a daily basis because they are from people who are too young for me. The simple truth is that I am not attracted to people who are under thirty, and that is just a fact. So if I approach someone and they kindly tell me they are simply not attracted to fat girls, I’ll take that as written and move along.

But I digress.

As for those other words – ‘plump, rounded, curvy, roly-poly, rubenesque, generous, BBW, padded, comfortable, chunky…’ – to my mind they are all fine. In fact, with the exception of BBW (which I think should probably be reserved for porn tags, as it is otherwise largely* unimaginative), I love a lot of these words. They are creative adjectives, and for me they all describe a different kind of fat. Plump is a warm, homely woman with rosy cheeks. Rubenesque has a sense of dim lighting and eroticism. Rounded is geometric. I would never discourage anyone from using these words creatively. But we seriously need to stop using them to avoid the word ‘fat’, because the more we do, the more we give power to all the negative, fat-shaming that is so pervasive in Western culture.

As for the word ‘obese’? It is medical and scientific, and belongs exclusively between you and your doctor.

• • • • •

*pun intended

29 comments

  1. Twist says:

    Wow, such a wonderfully written piece on a topic I know far too well myself. I might need to follow suit of you and RG on this x

  2. Mina Lamieux says:

    This is a very lovely post accentuate with beautiful pictures. I have to agree with you and I am guilty of using the word fat in a negative way. Primarily with myself. When I am having a bad day. I call myself fat. When I am having a good day, I call myself curvaceous, or whatever other word I enjoy using. I enjoy using other words in the place of fat because I like them, but I also need to just embrace the word fat and not make it a negative thing.

    • remittance girl says:

      I have to echo Mina’s comment. It really IS a beautiful, both text and image. And, Mina’s comment also underscores the reasons I don’t like the words I listed – because they are often used to ‘soften the blow’ of the reality of being fat.

      I think it’s just important to appreciate the skins we are in, instead of spending a lifetime wishing we were in some other skin. The older I get, the more I realize what a pointless, obscene waste of time that is. And how the practice of despising oneself is 1) useless (people don’t slim down through sheer hatred of their own flesh) 2) embracing a socio-economic ideology whose idea of success is bling and Mitt Romney, 3) inhibits us from having a full and adventurous life.

      I know this is not your problem, Harper. But it is true for the majority of fat women.

      • Harper Eliot says:

        Yes, I agree. And I have to say, being somehow (miraculously?) okay with my own body puts me in an odd situation when I write about it. On the one hand it’s easy for me to write about because it doesn’t cost me much – which is partly why I used the photographs as well, which cost me in a different way – but I’m also in a position to comfortably discuss it. I actually felt that your piece addressed a lot of body issues, which is why I went for the more semantic, social side of it.

        You said it pretty damn well, after all.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Pretty much sums up my article, very nicely! Thank you. And we all need to make friends with the word ‘fat’.

  3. I am fat. My body has stretch marks, the reminders of lives carried until they were able to come out and thrive on their own. Even at a weight that was considered ideal for my body frame and boobs that never disappear regardless of weight I lose, I still was fat. Am I self conscious. Yes. But I look at Curvaceous Dee and Plump Pea and think why am I so afraid?? Do you know what I remember about my childhood?? I remember standing in the bathroom when my mother would get out of the shower and see her scars from surgeries with me that left a deep impression down her stomach, the skin and roll that were stretched from 3 babies in a year span and then another one 11 years later. I would see it and think I never want to look like that. Yet I stand in the mirror I see that image. Why did I not realize the beauty in her scars and her rolls then.. or mine now

    • Harper Eliot says:

      I think there’s a lot of exploration and discussion to be done on the topic of how our mothers’ bodies influence us. My Mum never appeared to have any body issues when I was little (and any she has now are very slight), and I always completely thought her body was exactly the way a female body was supposed to be. But it never occurred to me that other people have a very different experience with their parents.

      Thank you for sharing this; it’s really very personal and I can appreciate that.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. I read RG’s piece before yours and actually ended my comment to her with something partially along these lines. Please forgive me for copying and pasting my entire long comment:

    Beautifully written!

    A recent quote from JK Rowling said, “Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’, or ‘cruel’? Not to me.” I couldn’t agree with that more. To be honest, this is another reason it’s hard for me to lose weight. While I know that physically it’s unhealthy for me, I actually don’t mind the way my body looks for the most part. It’s soft and smooth and squishy. At least, out of clothes. I dunno about anyone else, but I for one, am far more comfortable being completely nude than being in a bathing suit or in clothing that pulls and gathers and bunches!

    I’m a fat girl and have been my whole adult life. But I didn’t realize it or start feeling fat until 6 or 7 years ago. I’m 5’10″ and technically “morbidly obese” by medical standards, I guess. I weighed 155 when I graduated high school in 1993 and hit 200 right around age 20. Currently I am 264, but working my way down from my all-time high weight of around at least 305 (after the scale said 297, I didn’t step on it again, although I know I gained more after that) a couple/few years ago. The lowest I’ll go is 175-180, but really all I care about is being under 200, even if it’s maintaining 199.9 for the rest of my life.

    I want to lose weight, but not because of what society and media says. Like I said, I don’t mind the way my body looks, for the most part. From the front or back, anyways. From the side is something else entirely! But I don’t like the way it feels, the toll that being heavy takes on me. The way my knees and ankles hurt from doing too much. My lower back pain. I hate having a double chin and an upper belly and thighs that touch unless they’re spread wide open. I have some fat-girl health issues like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and constant armpit and groinal yeast infections on my skin. And most of all, I think I’m just tired of wearing fat-girl clothes. Sure, they make some cute stuff for big girls now, but they are still obviously fat-girl clothes. Also, I’d like to learn to walk in heels gracefully without having to worry about balancing 250 lbs on these ankles. I’d like my head to not look like a potato in my drivers license photo.

    What I really wish is that ‘fat’ wasn’t deemed such a negative description. I get so tired of people telling me that I’m not fat, like I’m talking down about myself. It’s just a fucking adjective, people. Stop pinning your hangups on me! While I’ve never been out of the US, it’s my understanding that this is the only country in the world that gives ‘fat’ such a negative connotation. Yes, there is an unhealthy obesity epidemic in this country. But carrying a little, or even a lot of, extra weight shouldn’t carry the social stigma that it does.

    • And since you mention OkC, a little snippet from my profile there: You may not be able to tell from my pics, but I’m a fat chick. Just to let you know. I get a lot of guff for saying that but I’m not down on myself, just realistic. Fat is just a descriptor, an adjective. I don’t subscribe to the negative connotations associated with it. Yes, I sometimes describe myself as voluptuous, but not to protect my ego. It’s just an accurate description that conveys a woman who is sexy and sensual and comfortable with her own curves. I may not necessarily like being a fat chick, but I’m mostly okay with it, because I am mostly height-weight proportionate. Nobody ever believes how much I weigh. I know I won’t always be this way. One day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be one of those trim über-health nuts. Just not today.

      • Harper Eliot says:

        Yep – I’m all for honesty on OkCupid. I think mine just says “Message me if… you like curvy curvy women. (I’m a fairly big little girl.)”

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Oh no, the UK gives fat just as bad a name. It can be really vicious here, and our advertising and fashion magazines etc, are really just thinness parades. It’s getting better… but it’s still pretty bad.

      Thank you for the comment; much food for thought.

  5. Mia says:

    From a fellow fat girl, brilliantly written!! Thank you for sharing. Off to read RM’s post now!!

    ~Mia~ xx

  6. I always use ‘fat’ as just a fact, not a compliment or an insult. When it gets to where ‘big-boned’ is considered hurtful, politically correctitude has maybe taken a step too far…

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Agreed; absolutely. We need some perspective: words are powerful, but we give them their power.

  7. Eloquent and precise, we need to stop giving words such powerful connotations. Fat does not mean “not beautiful”. I really have nothing else to add, but I loved this piece and the many comments that followed.

    • Harper Eliot says:

      Thank you! I’m really glad it resounds with people. I wish we could get over the fat shaming bullshit and just get on with… well, life!

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