People have hurled, spit, and hissed the word “fat” at me many times in my life. I assure you, it has never been meant as a compliment.
My loved ones do not call me fat. They avoid the subject and my gaze. Sometimes they try to shield me from it. At my thirteenth birthday, after another teenager threw that word at me, my mother sweetly but embarrassingly defended my honor, “She’s not fat! She’s fluffy!” I pictured myself as a comforter or a pillow. The other kids all laughed.
As a teacher, one of the skills I teach my students is defining words in context. If I were to craft a definition of the word fat based on the contexts which it has been used in my life it would look like this:
- Too big to be allowed; taking up more space then a decent person should ever occupy
- Ugly; hideous; unpleasant to behold
- Disgusting or nasty; distasteful; revolting
- Worthless; undeserving of love or affection
- Guilty; deserving of blame, shame, and mistreatment
Strangely, when I looked up the word in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definitions I found were much more neutral.
Sounds almost as if the word fat is just another descriptor I could use to distinguish myself in a crowd.
During my next introductory phone call with a new tutoring client I could tell them, “Meet me at the library. Look for the tall, brown haired, blue eyed, fat woman in the purple cardigan.”
I could. Certainly it would be helpful. But I won’t. It would be too shocking for a stranger as a general rule just to hear ‘fat’ thrown around so loosely. What might I say next? My students all have disabilities. Maybe the kind of woman who calls herself fat would label them “gimp” or “retard”. My students tend to be of color; would I throw around “spic” or “nigger” or “chink” just as easily? Worst of all, what if the new client happened themselves, to be, um, well, carrying around some excess….well, I mean, packing a few extra….gee, how do I….a tad bit on the larger end of….Gee whiz! What if they were fat!?
So no, maybe not with a stranger. But among friends? With those that know me I have begun to call myself fat. After all, that dictionary definition is very appropriate. I’m definitely carrying around extra flesh, at 5’10” and about 250 pounds nowadays, I have some body fat to spare. My “full, rounded form” is pretty glorious actually, all hips and thighs and breasts. Yes, I’m definitely “unusually wide or thick.” I’ve often quipped that while some women have an hourglass figure, I’ve been blessed with a two-hour glass figure.
The problem is no one will let me. No one will let me. A typical conversation goes like this.
Me: blah blah blah blah blah fat girl blah blah blah
Person who loves me, indignant: You’re not FAT! You’re beautiful.
Me: I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Can’t I be both?
Person who loves me then spends twenty minutes talking me down from the ledge of self-hate and body loathing that I have not even ventured towards.
This is what you all need to know. The ones that love me and the ones who have tried to use a simple little three letter word to destroy me, hear this. I am fat. I am fat and it’s okay, guys. I look in the mirror and I can see that I’m larger than a lot of other women. That’s fine. I can also see that I have twinkling blue eyes, that my lips have a very pleasant curve to them, that I am quite tall for a female. I look into the mirror and I’m a white girl with a reddish complexion. I’ve got a mole on my cheek and deliciously freckled shoulders. My pores are kind of largish and my chin sticks out a bit, but I’ve got a cute button nose and a stunning smile. It’s just one more thing, being fat, and it’s not that bad. Quite often, when I’m admiring the way my waist rounds out into my hips or the way I (bam!) fill out a sweater, it’s rather grand to be fat.
So, give me that allowance. Let me call me fat.