There is a question that we have to ask every single guest we have on our weekly online show. It’s about the controversial f-word — FAT. We have decided that it is important to ask whether or not our guests identify as fat. And if they don’t identify as fat people, how do they identify — plus size, big, curvy? We ask because it is an indicator for the kind of conversation we’ll have on air.
We’ve broached the “identifying as fat” topic and its extremely negative connotation. Most people despise the word and are vehemently against being associated with it. The society we live in certainly has fostered animosity toward fat bodies, so it’s understandable that people would want to separate themselves from the term. Surveys have shown that people would rather have their lives shortened by a year than be fat. Yet we can’t help but wonder what it would be like if people just accepted that their bodies ARE fat, called them that, and continued living their best lives anyway.
If you haven’t checked out the “Tell Me I’m Fat” episode on This American Life, where Ira Glass asks Lindy West about her “coming out” as a fat person moment, you certainly should. She’s very uncomfortable with using that term (and we are too) but take note of the larger point of this snippet from the transcript where she talks about her life prior to “coming out”:
Ira Glass: Coming out as fat is a strange idea, because, of course, people can see if you’re fat. It’s no secret. It’s not like when you come out as gay or transgender. Nobody says to you, “Dude, I can’t believe you’re fat.”
Lindy West: But I always felt like if I didn’t mention it that maybe people wouldn’t notice. Or it could just be this sort of polite secret like, an open secret that we didn’t address because it felt so shameful. It just felt impolite to talk about it, like me not wanting to burden you with my failure . . . So to actually say, OK, I am fat — and I have been as long as I can remember, so I don’t know why I live in this imaginary future where I, you know . . . someday I’m going to be thin.
So now we have a question for you: What’s your hang up with identifying as fat? We’ve found that when we embrace the fact that we are fat women, it chips away at the taboo nature of the word. It may not stop the use of the word but it certainly slows down the societal wheel that spins fat as the most terrible thing imaginable. How we use language matters and becoming mindful of body bias by facing our own identity issues will begin the undoing of harmful thoughts that lead to destructive behaviors.
There are also personal gains in identifying this way. In our experience, there is a freedom that sneaks up on you when you embrace the term“fat” and use it as a neutral descriptor. It sort of fades in slowly as you get used to simply declaring the truth to people. At first, it can be awkward or even jarring, trying to rewire those neural pathways, but then boom — one day, it’s like saying you have blue eyes or brown hair. It’s no big thing, except the people around you will sometimes protest and try desperately to get you to use a different turn of phrase to describe yourself. It’s normal to hear, “Don’t call yourself that!” or “I don’t think of you that way,” or “No, you’re not!” These kinds of situations have triggered many, many conversations about body bias and what fat acceptance truly means, which is a great thing.
However, unintended consequences can arise from embracing this way of thinking. When you identify as a fat person you tend to want everyone to be a part of your IAFP (Identifying As Fat Posse). Unfortunately, calling friends & colleagues “fat babes” or “fatties” (even if you have the best of intentions) isn’t always welcomed or well received. Please trust us. We’ve made that mistake! Everyone has the right to identify the way they choose and assuming that you are on the same page with someone, merely because you are similar in size, is a dangerous social gamble.
We have the privilege of hosting a show that gives us the platform to frankly ask our guests if they use the word fat to describe themselves, but this isn’t something we navigate in our everyday lives. We build relationships, build trust, share our vulnerability and point of view while hoping that vulnerability is reciprocated — knowing full well that our perception of what it means to be fat may not be shared. Change can come just by acknowledging our own identity and living out loud happily, in our fat bodies.
Actor/influencers Kathy Deitch and Eva Tingley spearheaded PlusThis!, the multimedia brand which features pop-culture, fashion, debates regarding food and health and the societal negativity and stereotypes that surround women who dare to take up a little bit of space. The duo broadcasts live every Thursday at 6 pm PT from Universal Broadcasting Network and simultaneously across several platforms including Facebook Live and YouTube Live.
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