I’m going to carefully try to explain why.
We’ll start with the arbitrary weight limit that most people place on “fat.”
400 pounds seems to be the magic number. I took an online poll and, when given the option to answer freely, 80% of people wrote “400 pounds.” (10% said 425 or more.) Here’s the thing, though, no number would matter. No number can ever be the definition of fatness. 400 pounds on a person who stands 5’ 5” looks completely different from 400 pounds on someone who’s 6’5”. 400 pounds on a bodybuilder looks completely different than 400 pounds on a sumo wrestler. Weight distribution is at least relative to height and muscle mass, so defining what is and isn’t “fat” by a number, or by what you assume a number looks like, is, frankly, silly.
They *all* weigh 150 pounds. (This impactful visual lesson led to me throwing out my scale 2 years ago. #goodriddance)
A lot of people wrote in the notes section of the poll, “Weight/appearance isn’t important so long as the person is healthy.” This concept is completely flawed.
All this “rule” is really doing, despite most people’s kind intent, is reinforcing the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy. Fat people should not have to whip out a list of their daily calorie intakes and workout schedules in order to be treated with respect. [nearly] Every person on this earth to be treated with kindness and dignity, but our culture has taught us that unhealthy people are the exception, and because they’ve also taught us that weight and health are correlated, that means open season on fat people. Here’s the memo everyone should be getting: no one else’s health is your business, whether they are fat or thin. Health is far too complex and personal to be up for public debate!
Now, onto “fat” and how it comes with a lot of negative imagery – but shouldn’t.
“Fat” should be just as stereotype-less as “short” or “tall” or “thin.” It is, afterall, just another descriptive word about someone’s size. (It’s also sometimes a noun.) “Fat” is only synonymous with “gross” and “ugly” and “lazy” and “slob” (and all those other “ick” words that come to mind when you think of “fat”) because there’s a ~60 billion dollar per year industry dependant on convincing non-fat people that they should never want to become fat, and reminding fat people that worst thing a person can be is fat. The only way for diet companies to reinforce false beauty standards is to attach stigma to the word “fat”, and therefore, fat people. This is why most people’s idea of “fat” is so flawed – we’ve been taught to be disgusted by fat people, so we won’t want to be one, so we’ll buy things we don’t need.
No matter their weight or health, most fat people are not sedentary or messy or clumsy or any of the other tropes thrust upon us. Again, these are just stereotypes we’ve all been brainwashed to believe about fat people so we’d buy diet pills and frozen meals, therefor staving off our own descent into fatness. Most fat people are just like most thin people, only fatter. We walk our dogs and play with our kids and take care of our families, we drive the carpool and watch TV and call our Moms, just like thin people, only we’re fat. Now I’m sure that there are fat lazy slobs out there, but body type and personal habits have little to nothing to do with one another in most cases. Whether or not you like your home tidy is a personality trait, not something that changes with your dress size. There are thin lazy slobs out there, too, but how often have you heard it expressed that all thin people under a certain weight are lazy slobs? (Never? Me either!)
Next, “fat” is not an insult [to me, anymore.]
If I were to walk into a room and introduce myself as “the short, fat, blonde” no one would dispute that I was short, or blonde, but at least one person would certainly exclaim, “Oh, you’re not fat!” I am 5’ 3”, somewhere between 200-250 pounds, and most of my weight is carried in front of me like a cheap fake pregnancy belly — I’m FAT.
Fat *and* fabulous. (Excuse the watermark, you know how the wank blogs are!)
It’s pretty clear to anyone that can see me that I am, in fact, short, fat, and blonde, but only one of those things is treated as a flaw. Nearly any time I call myself fat someone chimes in to “correct” me. They think they need to reassure me with phrases like, “ You’re loved just the way you are,” and, “You’re beautiful to me!” I know that most people who dispute my fatness do so with kind intentions, most assume that I aim to insult myself when I use the word “fat” as a descriptor, simply because they’ve never imagined that a person could use it without a negative connotation. The thing is, though, I know about the man behind the green curtain. I know exactly how the media made me hate myself, and now that I’ve learned the truth I never have to feel like the word “fat” is a weapon.
What people mean when they say that I’m not fat, is, I do not meet the criteria of their media-driven, lie-based definition of fat. Whether it’s because I’m [their idea of] pretty, or married, or happy, or neat, or whatever, at the end of the day, when someone says , “You’re not fat!” to me, what they mean is, “You’re not the archaic archetype I’ve been taught to believe is the only one fat people possess!” This isn’t their fault, of course, they’ve been exposed to the same fat-shaming, diet-obsessed culture that I have, but it is absolutely incorrect. I’ll say again, fat people are just as diverse as thin people, but, letting you in on that secret doesn’t allow the rich to get richer, so don’t blame yourself for lumping us all together (up until now, of course.)
And, last but never least, the fat = lazy cliche is extremely harmful to people with limited mobility and/or disabilities. A lot of the fat people who can’t do things for themselves can’t do those things because they are handicapped, emotionally or physically, or both. Society has taught us that fat people must be disabled because of their fatness, when in reality, most are fat because they are disabled. It’s not exactly easy to exercise when you have chronic fatigue syndrome, or severe depression, or lupus, or one of who knows how many other afflictions that limit mobility. (It also sucks to be hassled by doctors, friends, and family to go to the gym, only to get there to be mocked, harassed, and/or condescended to by strangers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Awww, at least she’s trying!” while working out in public. I can tell you that it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to deal with that garbage, because I sought out [and found] movement that makes me happy, doesn’t require a fee, and doesn’t include snarky comments from rude looky-loos.)
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for attempting to make me feel good about myself. I understand that you thought you were paying me a kindness. I’m simply trying to educate whoever I can about why, ”You are not fat!” is something I can never, ever again consider a positive sentiment.
It has taken me 2 years to unlearn that fat = bad, but now that I have, it’s very important to me to pass along that information. Not only because I am fat, but because a lot of people I love are fat or will some day be fat, and I want –no, I need them to know– that fat is not the worst thing a person can be. I need them to know that their lives don’t begin such-and-such pounds from now. I need them to become as disillusioned with the diet industry as I have, because, as far as I can tell, it’s one of the only ways to truly be happy.