You’re Not Fat

my name isCalling ourselves fat in a derogatory way seems to be part of the price of admission for being a woman in this society. We’re never supposed to be happy with our bodies and saying “I’m so fat” because we don’t fit into size two jeans, or because we do but they are tight because we just ate lunch is part of the way that women deal with the body image bullshit that comes at us all the time no matter what size we are.

It’s almost a form of self-deprecating humor – “I’ll say it first and then no one can accuse me of not hating my body like I’m supposed to.”  It can also be very real – it’s possible for a woman who is a size 2 and a woman who is a size 24 to feel equally as badly about their bodies.  Though there are absolutely institutional oppressions faced by fat people, self-loathing is not body-size dependent and our culture tells women of all sizes to hate ourselves, that we are never thin enough so we are all fat, and that fat is an absolutely horrible thing to be.

One problem that stems from this is that the “proper” response to the phrase “I’m so fat” is “You’re not fat!”  Being “not fat” is important in this society, so sometimes a woman will say “I’m so fat” so that someone else will say “You’re not fat” and she will be able to feel better about herself for a minute, or she’ll say “I’m so fat” because she knows that she is not fat by society’s standards and is reminding herself that she is “better” than fat people and in this way she can feel better about herself for a minute.  This is about how people survive in an effed up world where self-hatred is ingrained in us and an impossible stereotype of beauty is imposed upon us. It’s understandable.  That doesn’t make it a good idea.

The “I’m so fat!” “You’re not fat!” cycle reinforces the idea that fat is bad, so bad in fact that it’s important to immediately and emphatically insist that it’s not true to defend our friend’s honor.  When I describe myself using fat as a neutral descriptor (I’m the brunette, fat girl in the blue dress) very often someone will chime in and say “You’re not fat!”  The fact that nobody has ever said “You’re not a brunette” illustrates the problem – they are both physical descriptions but one has a had shame attached to it by our society.

So while I understand why it’s done, I’m still going to suggest that we stop – stop using the word “fat” as anything other than a neutral descriptor.  Say I’m fat if we think that we are, and not as a way to fish for compliments, as hyperbole, or because we just ate a burrito.  Stop using “You’re not fat” – when someone says “I’m so fat!”  and say something like “There’s nothing wrong with being fat” or “I wish we lived in a world where we could appreciate beauty at every size” or anything that doesn’t reinforce the idea that fat is bad (suggestions welcome in the comments).   One way to break down the stigma around being fat is by removing it from the word.

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46 thoughts on “You’re Not Fat

  1. When I first came to Germany, I often used self-deprecating humour as a form of defence. I would try things on in shops and ruefully remark that I was just too fat, or have a laugh at myself at work if something went wrong. I quickly learned not to do it – to the Germans, running yourself down is a very strange thing to do. It’s also rude in many contexts, because it means you’re talking about yourself, so it can sound (paradoxically) vain. Worse, if you run yourself down, people will take you at your word – and assume that it’s OK to dismiss you.

    Now when I hear women from English speaking countries rubbishing themselves it sounds odd. It also – weirdly – sounds mildly offensive, like they are asking me for my approval. A stranger inviting me to comment on her behaviour or body is an unwanted intimacy. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, I feel so much better about myself now that I don’t do it any more.

    1. “Rubbishing themselves.” Well. That’s a very apt term. “Rubbish,” in the U.S., means “garbage.” So what that says is that we are calling ourselves garbage. It’s a harsh analogy, but gracious it makes an excellent point. I’m going to spread that around.

  2. Amen! The number of people who are shocked I call myself “Fat Woman” on Twitter is large. The correct answer to: “You’re not fat!” is: “Are you blind?”

  3. I sometimes find it hilarious to watch people react to me calling myself – frankly and without any ulterior motive – fat. Seriously, I’m 5’2″ and weigh somewhere in the vicinity of 250lbs, which means I am very, very fat, but people fall over themselves to ‘reassure’ me that I’m not that terribly ugly word. Even funnier, there are people who can’t manage the lie but also cannot admit the truth. Watching them work themselves into linguistic pretzels is really funny.

    Here in the US it’s sort of like listening to the Knights Who Say Ni dealing with the word ‘It.’ You’re going along using a perfectly ordinary word and they’re writhing in agony on the ground at it. And no amount of shrubberies will assuage their sufferings.

    Oh, and if you don’t get the reference, hie thee out and see Monty Python and the Holy Grail stat.

    1. I saw the Linguistic Pretzels open for String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks.

      *sends Twistie out to find another shrubbery*

  4. Reminds me of the episode of South Park where every time Kyle said he was a Jew Cartman would say “No, you’re not a Jew, don’t be so hard on yourself!” basically to get his goat while trying to sound nice.

  5. I love this and it is a reminder to myself to stop doing it. I have fallen into this trap before, saying I am fat, before someone else does. Your blogs have given me a new opportunity to see myself as who I am, not what I am. Thank you!
    Oh and I love your new name- 5th Baroness of Chubbington, it just totally made me smile!!!<3

  6. “There’s nothing wrong with being fat”. Thank you. Just saying that in my head to myself gives me such a feeling of well-being.

  7. Thanks for the suggestions about how to respond. I am fat and have a friend who is as well and she is not ok with her weight. She is constantly referring to herself as a hippo, cow, etc. It is like a slap in the face to me every time she says such horrible comments – it just stings. There is so much hatred in this world from others, why would you refer to yourself that way? I don’t know if she’s looking for validation or just expects me to not notice. I’ve tried talking about it and she doesn’t see it as an issue, so I’ve been struggling with responses. Silence doesn’t seem like the answer.

    1. One of my responses to that is to help reframe “cow” or “hippo” or, in my case “walrus-girl” (that one came from a friend’s hubby) in positive ways. Cows are gentle, wonderful, practical animals without whom we couldn’t possibly make acceptable mashed potatoes. Hippos are graceful beasts that are incredibly powerful and swim magnificently (plus the babies are adorable!). Walruses are curvy, cute figures that actually the origin of mermaid myths. So. You just start with that. 🙂

      1. Walruses are awesome.

        You know, a walrus at Sea World once took an astonishing shine to my father. I think it was because they had the same moustache.

        1. That’s awesome. 😀

          I sort of identify with Manatee. And THAT is what passed as a mermaid, not a walrus. Silly me. But walruses are cool, anyway, so long as you don’t try to take their bukkit.;)

  8. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I will admit that in the past my body dysmorphia caused me to be one of those horribly annoying not-fat people who was always whining about how faaaaaat I was. Over time, I ended up becoming a small fat, and at this point I’m full-on Deathfat. Somehow I hate myself less now than I did when I weighed less than 120 pounds and was so incredibly paranoid about the fact that I didn’t have a perfect Playboy model body that I could never enjoy myself.

    1. I totally relate. When I was 145 lbs of hot and muscle, body dysmorphia had me thinking I was the size I am now at 330 lbs. I love myself now. I wish I could have loved myself then.

  9. An acquaintance of mine often complains and despairs about her jeans not fitting and that she’s getting fat. We’re talking a thin woman with a pinch of waist. I’ve gained 125 lbs since I was 25 (I’m 54) and I gently commented that it was a little hurtful for her to complain she was fat in front of me. She snapped at me that for HER, this 5 lbs was very uncomfortable and she had the right to complain. Well THAT made me feel MUCH better.

    1. ..and you have the right to say “not around me.” I have had friends who complain about that 5 pounds and not react well to my “did you really mean to insult me?” The typical response is “I wasn’t; I was talking about me!” They seldom understand that “I’m so fat” means “being fat is a bad thing!” Since I am fat, that makes me a bad thing. I give a couple of chances with reminders (you can complain about your weight, but not around me). If they can’t (or won’t) stop, I end the relationship explicitly saying, you don’t care enough about me not to openly insult me, so I can no longer be in your company.

      1. “you don’t care enough about me not to openly insult me, so I can no longer be in your company”

        Well said. Thin people who complain about how “fat” they are piss me off on so many levels. You (not you personally, but the people who say that bs – and SO MANY PEOPLE talk like that these days) act like being fat is the worst thing in the world, around someone WHO IS FAT and then come off saying “I have a right to call myself fat like that”, no, you really don’t. You DON’T get to use my body type as a euphemism for a whole slew of horrible things that it doesn’t actually mean. And you don’t get to use my body type as a metaphor for how much you hate yourself in that moment. You don’t get to use my body type as a metaphor for you feeling disgusting. That is a punch in the face for all the fat people who have to hear your fatphobic bullshit.

        I love my body. I love every inch of my fat and fabulous body. It makes me sick that I have to live in a society that treats me and my body like it’s one of the worst things in the world to be. I don’t put up with this bullshit anymore. I will not tolerate being treated like this by anyone in my life. And if a stranger says stuff like this around me, you better believe that call them out on their ignorant, fatphobic, bs.

  10. I’ve had to stop myself from replying to friends and family when they refer to themselves as fat or needing to lose weight. I used to say, “Oh be quiet, you’re not fat.” Now I often just say nothing in response or quickly change the subject.

  11. There are teaching moments and then not so much. The bravest of times is when we can respond to a person saying “I’m so fat” and explain our philosophy on body acceptance. Other times we need to just insulate ourselves from the left handed insult and keep chanting “I am OK just as I am.”

  12. When I was younger and much, much smaller I did the “I”m so fat thing.” The thing was, even at a tiny size, I was never satisfied with my body. This stemmed from comments my dad would say that gave me a serious complex about my size. One day, while hanging with a friend who was much larger than I was, I made a comment about being so fat and disgusting and she looked at me and said, “Really? So, then what do you think of me?” It was like a giant slap in the face. I wasn’t focused on her. I was only thinking of me. I thought she was beautiful, and hilarious and an awesome friend. I never thought of her as fat, though she was. But that was a huge wake up call. I realized what a butt I was being by saying those things.

    Fast forward a decade or two and my mom, who is TINY, was complaining about her weight in front of me. I pretty much said the same thing to her, “If being a size 8 is so disgusting to you, then what do you think of me?” Instead of realizing how she was making me feel, she got defensive and said a size 8 was fat for HER. I still don’t get the difference–if she thinks a size 8 is fat then it is fat. But this is the same woman who spent the day clothes shopping with me and knew what size I was looking for. Then that same night while watching tv where they commented on a celebrity’s size my mom was like “Oh, BS. She isn’t a size X, she is at least a size Y, she is HUGE!!”, knowing I was a size Y as that was the size I’d been looking for that day. She loves to make me feel terrible about my size. Thankfully, I’m past being sensitive about it (mostly). Now I’m like “yep, I’m fat.” and I smile. Because ultimately, my size has nothing to do with anything.

  13. Ever seen the image going around on Pinterest that says something like “Never tell a girl “fat”. Even if you´re joking”? It talks about damaging teenagers self-steem and I understand that it comes from a good place, but how about telling that girls that being fat is not something bad that she must suffer, but just an descriptive word as any other? I think that reclaiming the word FAT as part of our identity and taking away the moral charge that our society as put on it is key to end the fat stigma.

  14. I don’t like the word fat because of its connotation and its long history as an insult. It’s a good thing to attempt to take it back, but I prefer to use descriptions that aren’t tied into bad memories for me. To each his/her own, though.

    1. I felt very much the same way before, and if you’re open to hearing it, I can tell you how I took that word back. But these are your underpants, so it’s your choice how to view yourself.

      Not so very long ago, I realized that when I allowed the word “fat” to hurt me, I was making several choices simultaneously:

      1. I was choosing to give others power over me at a time of their choosing through the words they used. Since I have no control over their choices, I was choosing to place myself at their mercy.

      2. I was agreeing that they had the right to have power over me.

      3. I was living in my future based on bad experiences from my past.

      4. I was choosing to feel pain – actually, I was choosing to inflict pain on myself because I believed it stopped me from feeling even worse pain, which was almost never true.

      Once I was clear on the fact that the only person actually causing me harm was ME, it made all the difference in how I viewed everything. EVERYTHING. But I had to internalize that thought over the course of many weeks.

      The only reason that revelation hit me at all is because I spent a lot of time here reading Ragen’s posts, listening to others’ stories, and slowly internalizing a new message that said, “I am worth loving. I am worth being treated well. I am worth never making the choice to hurt myself again.

      I sincerely hope you can find your way to that place, southernhon, because I have found little to compare with that freedom 🙂

  15. Usually when someone says “I’m so fat” to me, waiting for me to say “You’re not fat,” back, I will instead change the subject to their overall beauty. I know that’s still appearance focused, but I know that when someone says that, they are fishing for compliments. Since I don’t consider “You’re not fat” to be a compliment, I will compliment them in another way like “You are gorgeous.”

  16. I’ve been thin, and I’ve been fat in my lifetime. But lucky for me I have ALWAYS been short. As in very short. 5 feet as an adult, give or take an inch either way, I’ve measured anywhere between 4’11” and 5’1″ when being measured “Officially”. I was short as a child as well. Always the shortest or second shortest in my class. from Kindergarten to 12th Grade. All except Grade 3, when there were 3 kids shorter than me, a set of triplets who’d been very premature babies. I stopped growing at age 14.

    Being short. for me meant I could take weight out the equation. I didn’t diet in my teens and early 20’s, the way so many other girls and young women did, whether they were thin or fat or in between. No matter what I weigh I know darn well I am NEVER going to magically be 4 or 6 or 8 or 10 inches taller. No, not even in heels of whatever inches. Because, hey, well, taller people can wear the same height heels! Leaving me still much shorter than most. Shortness meant that I was guaranteed to NEVER meet the “accepted” standards of “beauty” that have existed in my lifetime. These require a woman to be taller and thin. But not too tall, of course. Too tall was just as “bad” as being too short.The “Too Tall” women I know have been called things like Giraffe if they are thin, Horse if they are medium in weight, and Hippo or Elephant if both too tall and omgFAT! Since I could do nothing about the height, I saw no reason to worry too much about weight either. I was happy when I was fat, happy now that I am tiny in weight as well as height. Happy when I was someplace in between too. I can’t speak for all the “Shorties” out there, but this is how it is for me.

    1. The first half of your story matches mine. I was the shortest until grade 5 when a new girl came and she was half my height. But then she started to grow a bit, and in high school I was for sure the shortest in my grade. I also stopped growing at age 14, but I think that had more to do with dieting and anorexia than genetics, since everyone on both sides of my family is at least 5’5″, with some being 5’7″.

      1. In HS there were a few girls my height or an inch or so shorter or taller. There’s lots of short genes in my family. The tallest in the family are my male cousin, who’s 5’8″ or 5’9″ and my Dad when he was young, he was 5’8″ My brother is 5’6″-5’7″. My Mom is 5’3″, her brother is 5’5″ my Grandma was 5’1″. One of my female cousins in 5’4″ but the other is 4’10-4’11”. My Dad was adopted so we don’t know about his bio parents. But one set of great grandparents were 4’8″ for GGrandma and 5’2″ for GGrandpa. My Grandad on my Mom’s side was tallish, he was 5’11”. But my brother and I didn’t get the Taller genes. My nephew, my brother’s son DID. He’s a head to half a head taller than other kids his age, and as tall as I was at 12. He’s 9.

  17. The opposite side of this coin used to be my mom’s favorite compliment: “You look great, did you lose weight?” It took me a long time to convince her how that is not a compliment, and at least she stopped using it with me.

  18. Sometimes it’s difficult not to have standards for yourself that you wouldn’t have for other people.
    I’ve always been thin, and fortunately never had any body dysmorphia… And growing up I often thought that curvy girls looked fuller and healthier than I did. I never felt like everyone should be skinny (though in all honesty, I did think being fat was bad for your health). But I don’t think I ever felt like I was better than anyone else for being slim.
    In junior high, I noticed that sometimes my stomach would very visibly stick out a little bit, even through my clothing. Of course, this was just a natural part of puberty, getting more flesh in certain places, and menstrual bloating or being quite full can of course make your abdomen look bigger. I knew I wasn’t actually fat, but I was used to being tiny everywhere… So for a little while it made me uncomfortable and self-conscious, and I worried that I was going to start gaining a lot of weight. It was ironic, because for years I had thought I could use to gain a few pounds, but when faced with the possibility, I found it quite unsettling. Just goes to show how weight norms and beauty norms are so entrenched in our culture… Even when you think you know better, sometimes you find that you don’t. Even now, with all my efforts to fully embrace fat acceptance, if I’m totally honest with myself, I think I would be upset if I were to gain weight, at least initially. And yet when I see women heavier than I am (and most women are, since I’m below average weight), I don’t think they are unattractive or too fat or need to lose weight. I’ve encountered plenty of fat women who I genuinely find beautiful. But I suspect that if I were to find that weight on my own body one day, I would feel unattractive and like I needed to lose the weight. It’s very strange.

  19. I’ve always hated that “I’m so fat” “oh no you’re not I’M so fat!” competition some women seem to have. Who wants to compete for fatness? I know I don’t.

    Years ago when I was sophomore in college I was sitting between two “friends”. One would pout about being “so fat”. The other would say, “Oh you’re not fat! You’re gorgeous! I wish I was as pretty as you are!” “No, I’m not pretty. I’m fat, but you’re so smart! I wish I was as smart as you!” “No I’m not smart at all… blah blah blah. This went on for a long, long time. I was so bored. I finally told them, “You guys, you’re both right! You’re fat and you’re stupid. Now can we move on to another topic of conversation that isn’t incredibly boring?”

    I didn’t have much a filter at 20. But it did shut them up. Of course it also made it so I wasn’t their friend but that was okay too.

    I don’t self-deprecate in public. I judge myself at home. I am overweight. I am not healthy because of it. I personally need to lose some weight so I can claim back my good health. But that is for me. Usually when I judge it starts out with, “I wish I was healthy! I hate being sick!” Then its a downward slide into wishing I was thin so I wouldn’t have to worry about my various maladies.

    I think we need to keep fighting for acceptance from the public and from ourselves but also accept certain understandings about ourselves. Ragan, you’re in much better shape than I am in. You probably don’t have the same problems I do health-wise. That’s your biological make-up. I on the other hand am not built to hold the weight that I have put on. I have to lose it to be healthy. So yeah, I am fat. But I’m the only person who is allowed to say that about me.

  20. I think it’s interesting that I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things that I can do even while fat. For example, I thought I wouldn’t be able to touch my toes anymore. Or see my feet. Or balance on one leg. Or dance! Or get married! Or even (GASP) have sex!

    But I do all these things (sometimes even multiple times a day) and I actually head the alternative transportation program at my work and love bicycle commuting (because it feels sooooo good for me). A lot of people are taken aback or surprised by this, but I just tell them that the proof is in the behavior, not my size. I have a size, but I am NOT *merely* my size.

  21. Grr, i just reblogged this by mistake instead of commenting. Too long;cant be bothered writing it again version- this happened to me the other day! I find it very tiresome.

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