She’s Not Fat

Recently two Olympic Athletes and a model have been the subject of rants by people – who seem to be to be writing with more than a little desperation to feel better about themselves  – calling these women fat.

As is so often the case when famous women are called fat in public, the overwhelming answer to these hate-driven rants has been “she’s not fat.”  And that’s missing the point.

Would these women somehow deserve to be the subject of this abuse if they were fat?  No.  And saying “she’s not fat” says that these women don’t deserve to be insulted (which is true) but at the expense of reinforcing the incorrect idea that being called fat is an insult to begin with.

Unbelievably, with some regularity people tell me “you’re not fat”.  That’s ridiculous, I’m really quite fat.  What they are typically trying to say is that I don’t fit their stereotypes of fat people and they want to make me an exception so they can hang on to their stereotypes and keep judging fat people.  Which is obviously bullshit.

Assigning value to bodies based on their size is just wrong.  Yes, it is ok to be fat.  Bodies come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and instead of jumping to the defense of one woman by insisting that she is not fat, we have the opportunity to make things better for everyone by pointing out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with fat bodies, or bodies of any size.

The E-Book is “Name Your Own Price”!

I wanted everyone to be able to afford Fat: The Owner’s Manual – Surviving a Thin-Obsessed World with your Health, Happiness, and Sense of Humor Intact  so it  is now available in soft cover and e-book which is “name your own price”

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This month’s member deals come from More of Me to Love, Jodee Rose, The Fat Nutritionist, Golda Poretsky, Jeanette DePatie and of course me. If you are a member and haven’t received the e-mail with details and passwords just let me know!

I do HAES and SA activism, speaking and writing full time, and I don’t believe in putting corporate ads on my blog and making my readers a commodity. So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, you can  become a member (you get extra stuff, discounts, and you’re always the first to know about things) or you can support my work with a  one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free. If you’re curious about this policy, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

26 thoughts on “She’s Not Fat

  1. I’ve had this happen quite often. I’m at least 70# “overweight” according to the usual suspects. A few years ago, a friend (who is quite thin, and whom I knew to be biased against fat people) told me this in response to my having referred to myself as fat. Well, it happens frequently but that time was the last time I let it go by. I’d had enough of just accepting the implication you’ve identified in this post: that of course it is bad to be fat, so let’s just pretend!

    I just looked her in the eye and said, “Yes I AM fat. You don’t like fat people, but you do like me; that’s why you say that. Maybe you shouldn’t be judging and dismissing fat people you don’t happen to know.” She was speechless; she had no idea what to say. Since then, I always make some kind of similar response when this exchange occurs. I don’t know if it helps them understand, let alone change, their views. But it does help me that I’m no longer complicit in the implied equation of fat=bad.

      1. It’s kind of like when I was on this newsgroup and someone made a fat comment and I went off on them. The response was “I didn’t mean you.” To which I replied “You most certainly do mean me. If you didn’t know me and saw me walking down the street you would say those things about me so, yes, you absolutely DO mean me.”

        That shut them up… for a while.

  2. I have another opinion on what some people may be doing when they tell you you’re not fat.

    I totally agree with you; fat is a state, not an insult.

    This is a totally unfamiliar concept to many, many people. My entire life, I have heard people use “fat” as an insult or a derogatory qualifier, either against themselves or against others. I am working hard to break that pattern recognition in my own brain. It is harder than I thought, but I’m making real progress. Your very clear, well thought out writing has helped immensely.

    My whole life, when I’ve heard someone say that they themselves were fat (most often my mother & then best friend, both of whom had very disordered eating & body dysmorphic issues), the absolutely mandatory required response is “You’re not fat!” (Neither of them are/were, for the record.) If I didn’t give this response instantaneously, without pause for thought, much heartbreak & trauma ensued.

    I refuse to play anymore.

    My idea is that some of the people who give you the knee-jerk response of “You’re not fat!” may be responding out of the same kind of place. Out of a pre-programmed urge to soothe or comfort a perceived wound or attack, rather than “want to make me an exception so they can hang on to their stereotypes and keep judging fat people”.

    Misguided, yes. In need of an explanation of what you mean when you say “fat”, absolutely. Exposure to SA, definitely. I’m just asking you not assume the worst about their motives.

    1. This is an excellent point…it’s almost considered a point of courtesy to immediately issue the denial. I’m going to keep that in mind and see if I can’t find a graceful way to redirect the comment. Maybe something like “You have a nice shape. And, there’s nothing wrong with being fat,” or “You’re exactly the right size, everyone’s different.” You know…try to break the habit of reinforcing fat = bad.

      1. I had a Facebook friend say that they don’t like to use the word “fat” but prefer more “polite” euphemisms like “zaftig.” My reply was basically that I prefer fat because it’s a descriptor and that we shouldn’t sugar coat it with “polite” euphemisms because it sends the message that fat is bad or something to be ashamed of.

  3. We’re so culturally programmed to deny that the individual is bad while naming the group as bad, this is just another of those moments of cognitive dissonance we live with every day. You hear it every day on dozens of subjects.

    “Women are all nuts, amiright? Oh, not you, Daphne, you’re one of the boys!”

    “Those lazy Mexicans should all just go home and starve! Oh, not you, Jaun. You worked hard to be here.”

    “Math geniuses can’t relate to normal people at all. Hey, honey, I can’t figure out this problem, can you do it? I love that you’re so smart with numbers.”

    And so it is that when a woman (me) who stands five foot two and a half and wears a size twenty in a lot of lines comes right out and calls herself fat, the people who love her have a really hard time not telling her ‘you’re not fat!’

    But I am. I’m down with it. It’s as much a part of who I am as my short stature, blue eyes, passion for baking, and encyclopedic knowledge of Monty Python.

    The people in my immediate life have now been corrected enough that they’re learning. It’s going to take a lot longer to get the rest of the world on board. But you know what? The more individuals who learn, the faster we get to that tipping point.

  4. I use a cane, crutches, or a wheelchair to get around every day. And I still have people say to me: “But YOU’RE not disabled!”

    My answer has always been to laugh and say: “Yes I am,” but I think I’ll switch to the response that calls them out on their bigotry. You have the best comment section on this blog.

  5. Last year, I got into a discussion about size and health with two colleagues, one of whom I know quite well and who is very fat (an observation, not a value judgment) and the other–with whom we were working for the very first time–who was extremely slim. Then there was me, someone you could term a “small fat”.

    It was amazing how quickly our slim colleague made sure we knew that in her opinion, neither of us was fat. I admit it, I didn’t say anything, and maybe I was wrong, but that’s for another discussion. The fact remained, her statement was one of the biggest, fattest (pardon the pun) lies I have ever heard. WE WERE FAT. Again, it’s just an observation, and nothing more. But she couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge the fact. I am 100% positive that she felt that if she did admit it, it would necessarily be taken as an insult. In her mind, negating our obvious fatness was just her way of being polite.

    On the other hand, I used to know a woman who went to Paris for the first (and only time) in her twenties. She spoke perfect French herself, having been raised in Morocco, so language was not an issue. My friend was fat. She walked into a dress shop, as she was looking for an outfit to wear to a party being held for her future sister-in-law. The saleswoman looked her up and down and spat out “We have nothing for YOU here.” She didn’t have to say outright that my friend was fat: her tone of voice showed just how disgusted she was by this woman’s fatness.

    BTW, when I told this story to a former (VERY former) friend of mine, who is extremely thin and happens to also be from France, her reaction was that the saleswoman had just “told the truth” and that her reaction was therefore perfectly correct.

    1. I’ve never traveled, but I’m fairly well read, and I’ve read that Americans use dishonesty as politeness way, way more than people in other countries, and that we say things are better than they are. We never have a “good” trip or day or whatever, it was always “awesome!” So, this whole, “You’re not fat!” thing is the same as when we look at someone who’s maybe a little haggard or has had a bad day and say, “You look great!” and saying, “You look terrible, are you okay?” is extremely rude. Saying things like that isn’t considered rude in other parts of the world.

      Though, I might have asked the saleswoman for clarification. “Can you be more specific?” or something, daring the woman to be ruder or more personal.

    2. I had an experience like that in Italy, and wasn’t sure how to take it. I was at a street market and stopped to look at a really tacky, slinky dress…no thought of buying it. The salesman comes over and says “You’re much too big for that dress. That will never fit a woman your size.” No sense of offense that I could tell, friendly enough. I explained I was just looking and, nice as could be he says, “I have some dresses that would fit you…but that one is for a small woman.” I was taken aback at how direct he was and a bit mortified he thought I might want that horrible dress but, in hindsight, he was being honest…not judgey.

      1. >> a bit mortified he thought I might want that horrible dress

        Hee! But he was SELLING it, right?

        I had a sales clerk in Italy be super direct with me and actually it’s helped me buy the right size tights ever since. (On the other hand, I was accidentally looking at some padded bras at Victoria’s Secret in Washington, DC and a rude young clerk LAUGHED at me in lieu of redirecting me to the one bra they had in my size.)

      2. I think it really depends on the delivery. It sounds like the man in Italy didn’t write you off and tried to help you find something that would fit and look nice on you. The woman in France, on the other hand, sounds like she wrote the fat woman off completely.

  6. “People tell me “you’re not fat”. That’s ridiculous, I’m really quite fat. What they are typically trying to say is that I don’t fit their stereotypes of fat people and they want to make me an exception so they can hang on to their stereotypes and keep judging fat people.”

    I remember when my friend who is fat (who is also very into size acceptance) said she was fat. I was horrified because I was thinking that ‘fat’ was a hurtful term and I didn’t want anyone applying a hurtful term to my dear friend. So I said “you’re not fat.” I wasn’t trying to make her an exception from my stereotype. I just didn’t want her to be hurt. She kindly explained to me that yes, she was fat, but that it was just an adjective and she didn’t mean to hurt herself by applying it to herself.

    This is still a hard one for me to grapple with because I was ‘the fat kid’ and remember the word was used only to taunt me and to shame me.

    1. That’s the thing: it’s hard to reappropriate a word like “fat” since the word has been used as a insult for so many years by so many people.

  7. I have used the word “fat” to describe myself for several years now, almost to the point of forgetting that it makes many other people cringe. The most ridiculous time was when I was seeing a therapist for some anxiety issues and said something about being fat, simply as a descriptor, not as putting myself down or something. She immediately interrupted me to assure me that I wasn’t fat, and I just laughed. Lady, I am F-A-T fat! As Ragen would say, my fatness should come with a cape and secret identity! But she would not then get off the idea that all of my problems stemmed from the idea that I was putting myself down by calling myself fat. Therapy FAIL!

  8. I was talking with my young cousin and somewhere in the conversation I said “I’m fat.” It was as simple as saying my eyes are brown. He was mortified and determined to convince me that I should never, ever call myself that. I tried to explain to him about it not being a bad thing. He would not listen. He appeared genuinely horrified.

    I feel like I failed in helping him understand my belief that every body is a good body and fat is just another descriptive word.


  9. I’ve been referring to myself as fat for a long time now and surround myself with other size positive people, but every once in a while, I get to use my standard reply to “you aren’t fat” or someone who insists that I need to use a euphemism.
    “My fluff or plumpness (etc. ad nauseum) is made of fat. I have taken the word back, because I am fat, but I am not ugly, or lazy, or sloppy,or gross, or stupid, or any of the other things that people try to make the word mean. It is not a judgement of my worth. Fat just means that I have excess adipose tissue stored on my body that makes me take up more space than thinner people, period.”

  10. When I was called fat @ a baseball game, my response was: “OMG! Thank you so much for noticing! That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!”
    Then I blew him a kiss and walked away.

  11. While I see your point about “she’s fat” not being an insult but a descriptive assertion, I think the phrase “She’s not fat” has valid applications too, namely when this description of a person’s body is totally warped as in the case of of Jessica Ennis, who is not fat. Not the least little bit.

  12. I’ve been told I’m not that fat, by someone who has never seen me in person, because I do not fit their stereotype of a fat person (I’m lazy and unfit atm, but not stupid, so I assume their definition has an mental component) I had to tell him that I really was that fat and it wasn’t that big a deal – I’m not sure he really got it, but I found it dreadfully amusing that he assumed I couldn’t be fat because he likes me.

    I interact with people I hope to eventually meet in an online game and I have started pointing out sooner that I am fat, female and have limited patience for bigots of any kind. It doesn’t stop me getting into arguments with idiots and trolls, but it does mean they get fair warning first. *smiles sweetly*

    This blog has helped me structure my ideas better and given me facts and figures to back my arguments with, which has boosted my self esteem greatly and is helping me focus on getting fitter in the long term as well as making the world a better place by slowly educating the ignorant and unthinking.

    Thank you Ragen ❤

  13. See the thing that bothers me the most when people feel the need to deny my fatness, is that they are proving to me just how dumb they think I am. I mean do they really think that I will hear that from them and be like… oh I am not fat… woohooo lets go to Victorias Secret then!

    Seriously lying to me never goes over well, nor does trying to force me to live a lie, I don’t care how good the intentions are. So when I speak the truth about myself and someone denies it, and tries to take away my right to live in and speak the truth, they will become someone that I question my relationship with them as well as trust I gave. Not to mention that it they are treating me like an infant who knows nothing and so I can be convinced of things that are clearly not true.
    I mean it makes about as much sense as me holding up a watermelon and calling it a watermelon, and then having someone argue with me and insist that I call it a pineapple. To which I would probably reply “bite me”

  14. This happened recently with my mother. She is a size 2, considered herself obese at a size 8 and constantly slams celebs she thinks are too pudgy. I’m 40 pounds overweight and I’ve come to understand and slowly accept that will not change. I’m been trying to lose that same 40 pounds for that past three years. lol Anyway, I recently made a comment about my size. It wasn’t to put myself down. I don’t remember the exact context but it was something matter of fact. She said, “You’re not fat!” I just looked at her and then left the room. But her saying that hurt almost as much as if she’d just said, “Eww, you’re so fat.” I know how she feels about heavier people so for her to dismiss me is hurtful. She isn’t seeing me. She is only seeing what she wants to see or what she wishes I was. This point was driven home shortly after all of that. I was telling her how my doc (I have thyroid disease) told me about these vitamins and injections I can take to possibly help my body more efficiently burn fat. I’m very active and eat healthy and while discussing this at a recent appointment he made the suggestion. I was telling my mom that it goes against everything I believe in as far as taking care of your body. I said it seems so extreme and I’m not sure I want to be smaller that badly that I’d resort to those measures. Then I was about to say “I just want to be accepted.” But she interuputed me and said, “You just want to be able to move, feel comfortable and be as active as you want.” Um…no. I honestly don’t feel uncomfortable with the extra weight at all. I do yoga and kickboxing daily. I help my boys with their soccer drills. I can keep with the kids just fine…they have trouble keeping up with me. lol But I realized she completely sees me as someone incapable of having a real life despite how active I am…all because I’m overweight. She was really pushing for me to try the pills and injections. 😦

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