Should We End Fat Talk?

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Name courtesy of hatemail from someone who didn’t realize that I would love this so much I would consider changing my name.

A clip has been leaked of an interview with Barbara Walters and Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence. Walters asked her “You’ve criticized people who judge people on the red carpet. You’re very sensitive to that. Why?” Lawrence responded:

Because why is humiliating people funny? And I get it, and I do it too, we all do it. But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress or making fun of the girl that’s, you know. And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?

First of all let me say how much I appreciate Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about this, I’ve written before about how ridiculous I think it is that, on a night that people have dreamed of and waited their whole lives for, we choose to trash them because their dress or shoes or hair don’t meet the fickle and ever changing requirements of the fashion police.  To me this applies to red carpet critique, who wore it best articles, best and worst bikini bodies and more but that’s a subject for another blog.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard the idea of ending fat talk.  Often when it is discussed “fat talk” is short hand for negative body talk.  Above Ms. Lawrence seems to be suggesting literally not calling people fat. though I think that it’s couched in hyperbole for effect.

The issue here is that, however well meaning, saying that we shouldn’t call people fat suggests that being fat is such a terrible thing that we shouldn’t utter the word out loud.  Fat people are not Voldemort and making fat seem like the “physical descriptor that must not be named” actually further shames and stigmatizes people who are fat whether we call them/ourselves that or not. The trick is to end body shaming and negative body talk full stop – not to suggest that we should abandon the use a perfectly good physical descriptor because people have been allowed to heap stereotypes onto it.

Here’s what I think:  We don’t need an end to fat talk, we need an end to fat stereotyping, fat stigmatizing, fat bashing and fat-based healthism (along with all healthism while we’re at it.)  We need to realize that public health means creating access to options for the public, not making people’s health the public’s business.  We need to acknowledge that bodies come in lots of sizes for lots of different reasons and that people of all sizes deserve to be treated with respect – which includes the absence of stereotyping based on physical appearance.  I think that we need to end body snarking and body bashing of all kinds, and I think part of that is creating a world where calling someone fat isn’t either.

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20 thoughts on “Should We End Fat Talk?

  1. Great post! I love Jennifer Lawrence and she may have been a little misguided in what she said but her heart is always in the right place and she seems like a genuinely good person.

    You’re right though, it’s not the word “fat” that we need to abolish, it’s the connotations that come along with it.

  2. I’m absolutely loving Jennifer Lawrence’s very public stance against body shaming, and I do think – like you – that she was taking it to eleven for effect. I’m sorry that the form it took was making the mere mention of the word ‘fat’ unmentionable.

    One million points for effort, small deduction of points for the shaky dismount.

    ps: VOLDEMORT!

    Now, if we could get a couple more Very Public People talking this way and just leaving out the idea of banning the word ‘fat’ we might actually get somewhere.

  3. LOL Voldemort…

    The real problem here is body shaming. Whether it’s saying someone is “fat” or “too thin.” While the former is more of a commonplace occurrence, both happen, and especially on those red carpets.

    Someone who has lost weight shouldn’t be subjected to the “oh,is she anorexic?” or “is she using drugs?” or “oh, dear, I think she may be ill” anymore than someone who has gained weight should be subjected to the “she needs to eat a few less donuts” sort of talk. It’s all BS, it all takes away from people’s talents, abilities, and fuck, their humanity.

    I used to be guilty of this, especially when it came to the ever-shrinking size of famous actresses. It’s good to know Jennifer Lawrence is speaking out, though I would like to hear her say it ALL has to stop.

    Thin and fat aren’t bad words. They’re just words. Like any words, it’s the way they are used that’s the problem.

  4. Given that next to no-one on the red carpet IS fat, perhaps she is thinking in terms of banning it as a catchall insult or slam against every actress/female-bodied person above a size 2? (I think it would be lovely if calling a petite celebrity “fat” evoked the same response as calling Salma Hayek “blonde.”)

    1. Well, there ARE fat celebrities. Melissa McCarthy, Carmyn Manheim… Oprah.

      There are the post-baby bodies who get ridiculed, and sometimes even BEFORE the baby like Jessica Simpson.

      Then there are the ones who have consistently struggled like Kirstie Alley. And the formerly fat, formerly “not going to lose my curves” celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Sara Rue…

      Jennifer Love Hewitt has been called fat, Kate Winslet… now those two latter examples may not have ever actually be “fat” or even “plus-sized” but they both got shit talked about them for their fluctuating weights and/or curvier than is normal in Hollywood body types.

      So, while it’s a rarity, there ARE some fat celebs.

    2. I think this is a good point. Yes, there are some fat celebs, but “fat” is often hurled as an insult at non-fat celebs who have the nerve not to fit into the size zero celebrity body culture (such as Kate Winslet or Jennifer Love-Hewitt as luciebluebird mentioned). So while banning the word “fat” is neither practical or the desired outcome, I do appreciate Jennifer Lawrence’s stance on body shaming. Like much of the rest of society, she has been trained to think of “fat” as an insult, so I interpret her remarks to mean, “Let’s not lob insults at people’s bodies.”

    1. Do you ever notice how Gabourey Sidibe is the one celebrity who never seems to get called fat?? That is when fat most becomes the “physical descriptor that must not be named” (love this allusion) – when actual fat celebrities are never referred to as fat. We really do need to neutralize that term!

  5. It’s weird how this cropped up now, because just this morning I casually mentioned how happy I was a popular cartoon included a likeable, sympathetic, major character who’s fat and immediately got the standard rebuke of “[Character] isn’t fat!” and, when I pointed out he was about the same size I am, “YOU aren’t fat!” We’ve been so conditioned to treat the word as an insult, I wound up spending ten minutes trying to explain why I don’t consider it one and don’t think I got anywhere.

    I think Jennifer Lawrence’s heart is in the right place, and I applaud her for saying something her audience is not going to want to hear. I made The Mistake of reading the comments on a recent body positive article and saw adult readers spending pages dismissing and making fun of fat people like third graders (while simultaneously claiming there’s no such thing as fat shaming); I imagine Lawrence will get the same reaction, so thumbs up to her for saying it anyway. It’s just that the way to go about ending body shaming is not to exclaim, “You’re not fat!” to someone who IS fat, as if it’ll become true if you say it with enough conviction.* The way to go about it is to get rid of the erroneous perception that fat is this terrible thing to be.

    *It amazes me how much diet culture relies on magical thinking – belief that a diet that’s been proven to fail 95% of the time will work if you want it to badly enough, belief that if you say someone isn’t fat reality will warp itself to match your words, belief that salads contain mystical properties and eating them will make you thin even if you personally know someone who eats it regularly and remains fat, belief you were justified in throwing your pop at that fat cyclist as you drove by him in your car because he was getting less exercise than you… it’s magical thinking bordering on doublethink.

  6. In the feminist art world I often hear young women who don’t want to call themselves FEMINISTS…because it has a derogatory connotation as well. I’m FAT…and I say that hopefully without negativity on most days…and I am also a Feminist…there is no need to banish words from our vocabulary because they have been misused. Just start using them to empower people and eventually things will turn around.

    Thanks for sharing as always Ragen! Ahhh those F Words!

  7. The thing that bothers me most about the “let’s just get rid of the bad words!” attitude is that it doesn’t even matter. Let’s say you successfully eradicate the word “fat” from common usage. All you’ve done is create a space from some new word to be turned into the next insult. People aren’t going to stop saying horrible things just because we’ve gotten rid of the “bad words” they were using. They are just going to start using another word. (and this is why being politically correct doesn’t really work…)

    1. Agreed. The thing we really have to change is the attitude behind calling a person ‘Fat’ in a derogatory way, regardless of whether they actually are ‘fat’ or not. I’d like to live in a world where ‘fat’ is no more a judgement of someone else than ‘female’ or ‘tall’.

      1. I could use that tactic on the arthritis website – if you don’t want painful joints, then don’t have arthritis. Yay, I’ve solved the world’s problems – just blame the victim 😉

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