She’s Not That Fat

Nothing to proveOne of the things that I see a lot when someone is fat shamed is the response “But she’s not even that fat.”  Other (direct quote) versions of this are “They treated me terribly and it’s not like I’m horribly fat” or “I don’t think she’s fat at all.”  I absolutely understand why it happens, not only are fat people routinely shamed for our body size, but the fear of being, or being called, fat is used to control people of all sizes.

The thing is that if someone is being shamed, stigmatized, bullied etc. for being fat, and we say “they aren’t fat” or “they aren’t even that fat”  in their defense, what we are also saying is that there is a size at which they would deserve that treatment, and that’s just not true.

Countering fat shaming by denying fatness says that the person doesn’t deserve poor treatment (which is true) but at the expense of reinforcing the incorrect idea that they would deserve it if they were fat (or some greater degree of fat), or that being called fat is an insult.  There is no size at which people deserve to be treated poorly.

We can answer fat shaming without further stigmatizing fat people with responses like:

  • I wish we lived in a world where people of all sizes were respected
  • Body shaming is never ok
  • So what?  or So what if she is fat?
  • Fat isn’t an insult, it’s just a body size.

It doesn’t matter how fat someone is, or why they are that fat, or what the outcomes of being that fat may or may not be.  They deserve to be treated with respect and it is completely ok for them to be that size. Yes, even if they weigh 2000 pounds. Yes even if you think their weight is “their fault.” Yes, even if you would never ever want to be that fat.  Yes, even if you can’t understand how they live. Yes, even if they have problems that can be correlated with being fat.  Yes, even if they have problems that can be causally related to being fat.  Yes, even if studies show that they cost society more.  Yes, even if they actually cost society more.  It is totally, completely 100% ok for someone to be fat.  Nobody needs anyone’s encouragement, justification, or permission to live in their body.  Period. This is true whether or not people are able to achieve permanent weight loss.  Fat people have the right to exist without bullying, shaming, or stigma period.

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 someone being fat-shamed by insisting that they aren’t 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.

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41 thoughts on “She’s Not That Fat

  1. I get the “but you’re not that fat” all the time then usually refering to someone who is fatter than me. Or a person trying to convince me I am smaller than I am trying to insist I can’t possibly be a size 20 and trying to get me into a change room in a 14…I don’t know why they care so much when I don’t. And believe me – I know a size 14 won’t fit and honestly I have way more things to worry about. Also I wear vintage so I buy based on measurements and things are not sized the same the little numbers on the tags don’t actually mean anything to me. If it fits and I like it I wear it. I am also (thanks to this blog) no longer terrified of being fat or having someone call me fat. I see it now as purely a body size and again – I have much bigger problems to worry about.

  2. i’ve said it before but it bears repeating: I absolutely love your blog and the work you do, Ragen. Thank you!

  3. As a person who never ends up hearing “But you’re not that fat…”, I’m very grateful for this post. I’m grateful for all your posts, but there are days when posts like this really help me get through the day. Thank you, thank you, thank you! ♥

  4. This blog would be almost as excellent if you just repeated these two gems from today’s essay:

    — There is no size at which people deserve to be treated poorly.
    — It is totally, completely 100% ok for someone to be fat.

    I am THAT fat, and I approve of this message.

  5. I understand your points, Ragen. And they are 100% valid and true. I know a lot of people commenting about Tara Erraught were saying “but she’s not even fat.” And for some of them, there is undoubtedly a point at which “fat” becomes worthy of mentioning, shaming, criticizing… even in the name of “concern” shame or trolling. Whichever it might be (because sometimes, to be honest, I have no idea which is happening with those two).

    However, my reaction to seeing Tara Erraught (as I suspect this blog may be prompted by reactions towards her size) wasn’t “but she’s not even fat” because I think there’s a point at which it’s acceptable. I definitely don’t. It’s just when you’re “death fat” it’s disheartening to see someone who is probably on par with “average” called “fat.” It prompts the thought process of “god, imagine if that person saw ME what he/she would think!”

    I definitely don’t think it’s okay to fat shame someone my size (or bigger), either. Just to clarify (though hopefully that’s clear). But I think a lot of us who had that immediate reaction of “but she’s not even fat!” weren’t having it because we think there’s a point at which it’s okay, but more because we’re horrified that a woman who is probably average is being so heavily criticized for her weight.

    I’ve always said there is a difference between actually being what society deems fat and “feeling” fat. I know plenty of people who fall into the category of “socially acceptable (as in BMI normal) body type” but will tell you how fat they are, and while their feelings on the matter are 100% valid, it doesn’t mean they have or live the experiences of someone who is actually fat (as in BMI overweight – obese). I don’t know Erraught’s weight, and I’m not one of those celebrity trainers who likes to go to Us Weekly and making guesses about celebrities’ weight gains/losses… my gut instinct says, that despite MY probably emotional response of “oh god, if she’s so horribly unsightly and fat, what am I?” Erraught probably isn’t considered a “normal” weight… probably an “average” one, but then again the “average” woman (at least in the US) is likely in the “overweight” range.

    I’m rambling, and I don’t know if I’m making sense… I just wanted to offer an alternate explanation to that reaction because I suspect I am far from the only person who heard about that story and then saw her picture and was horrified to learn that even a woman of her size is fodder for this sort of nonsense. NO ONE should be subjected to it… but the idea that smaller and smaller women are is disheartening because it makes it feel like society is going in the opposite direction of what so many of us hope to see happen.

    1. I’m in your corner on this one. Not that I think there is a point when it is o.k. to shame someone, but that in my perspective an fairly averaged sized person shouldn’t be scored publicly for body size.

      1. It’s just… when someone is on par with what is “average” how can that be considered (too) fat or even (too) thin?

        That said, of course I’d love it if a person’s body size was left out of the equation entirely. Let’s talk about the person’s skills or talent without talking about his or her body.

      2. Plus there are those times when a demonstrably not fat person (such as Jennifer Love Hewitt or Jessica Simpson, just as a couple f’rinstinces) gets fat shamed in the press. When that happens, it’s incredibly discouraging.

        After all, if a woman who probably wears a size four is deemed disgustingly fat in the national press, what the merry hell would they think of my roughly size twenty ass?

        Still, while my instinctual reaction might be one of ‘but she might weigh a hundred and eight pounds dripping wet! she’s not fat!’ may be accurate, I do agree with Ragen that the voiced opinion should be one of ‘I don’t care whether she is fat, she doesn’t deserve to be shamed.’

        Most of us leap to ‘but she’s not fat’ either because we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that’s the kindly, humane response or because we’re fat enough to see fat shaming of thin women as yet more proof that we have no value in the world. We don’t even think about the response of ‘so what?’ or ‘why are you so worried about how much she weighs?’ but go directly to ‘liar, liar, pants on fire!’ territory.

        Society at large isn’t going to re-write this script until we do something to start the change. And that’s why even when we’re thinking ‘but she’s really thin!’ it’s more important to say that it’s not okay to use fat fear as a weapon against her.

        After all, her actual body is irrelevant to the conversation. My actual body is irrelevant to the conversation. What we’re doing by saying ‘so what?’ instead of ‘but she’s not fat!’ is taking one more swing at breaking down the barriers so that one day ‘fat’ will again be a descriptor, not a weapon of mass ego destruction.

    2. I think I get it. You’re saying: being shamed isn’t okay at any size, and the fact that women much smaller than you are being shamed and stigmatized for being “too fat” is alarming.

      1. Yes, that’s pretty much it! It’s just like what Twistie is saying… when you see someone who is 100% NOT fat (like Jennifer Love Hewitt at her “fattest”) body shamed, it’s just a big WTF is wrong with this world where an actress who is MAYBE a size 8 at best is called fat and body shamed?

        Definitely never okay, for any reason… and I don’t care if it’s the reverse, either. The “oh,she’s too thin” crap. But my point was, particularly from the perspective of a “death fat” fatty… to see someone like Tara Erraught called all these horrific names, to see them say her body is a distraction from her brilliant talent… it’s like, welp. Then there’s no hope in hell for someone like ME, if that’s what we’re calling “fat to the point of distraction” these days.

        And again… I would like to see these body descriptions left out entirely. Fat or thin or average or whatever. Talk about the talent, the job being done. Critique that.

        So my point isn’t to disagree with Ragen, because I definitely don’t and I think her argument is sound and sadly valid (meaning that a lot of people saying “she’s not fat,” would, for example, happily tell you I am and mean it in an “okay, that’s a person fat enough to shame” way). But I wanted to point out that for some of us, to say “but she’s not even fat” was just a WTF when did a body of that size get pushed into the “distraction fat” category?

        1. I agree — it was a “WTF” reaction for me too. Here’s an analogy I thought of: I hate ageism and it infuriates me when, for instance, Meryl Streep is called “too old” to play a romantic lead. BUT, if I heard someone say that a 30-year-old woman was “too old” for a part, I’d almost definitely react by saying “But she’s not even old!!” I don’t think that implies that there IS an age where it’s okay to call someone is “too old”; it just implies that the descriptor “old” is ridiculous in this case.

          That was very much my reaction with Tara Erraught. I completely agree with Ragen that it is NEVER okay to fat shame, no matter how fat someone is. But in this case it was not only wrong to fat shame, it was also factually inaccurate to describe Tara Erraught as “fat”.

          But I definitely see Ragen’s point. I think, if I ever found myself in a conversation about this with someone who’s made a fat-shaming comment, I’d say something like “What does her weight have to do with anything? It is always completely inappropriate to shame someone for her size. In this case, your description also happens to be factually untrue, which makes your remarks ridiculous as well as offensive.”

          I’ll need to work on that to make it snappier, but something along those lines…

    3. Lucie,

      I feel sad to think that you think of yourself poorly because of your body size (“…what if they saw ME…”, or that others would think of you poorly because of your body size.

      Although body shaming is never OK (whether it comes from others or ), the point I hear in Ragen’s blog today is “‘fat’ is not an insult. It is not an insult-able ‘offense’ to be fat, whatever extent of fatness I inhabit.”

      To me, that’s like saying “She has brown hair! Ick!” says one person. “Yeah, but it’s not as brown as _hers_!” responds the other. Or “She’s tall!” “Yeah, but not as tall as she is!”

      Try using race issue as the example. That’s how “She’s fat/not _that_ fat!” sounds to me.

      Judging any physical _characteristic_ of the body, or an extent of the characteristic, is the insult, whether we judge them with insult or with praise, in my view.

      I’m not Ragen, so I can’t say for sure what she was saying, but that is what came to me.

      I’m not saying you have to believe what I believe, or that you’re wrong for saying what you said. I don’t wanna mess in your underpants. I just felt that sadness I feel when I judge myself, and remember the work I’ve done to accept myself. Which, it even pisses me off that I have to *work at* accepting myself! Heh!

      1. Hi Elizabeth… I’m not judging myself in the sense that I think there’s anything wrong with how fat I am. I’m simply saying, I *am* fatter than Tara Erraught by a very good bit. Whether or not I like it, we live in a world where people DO think that way. And I didn’t necessarily even mean I’d be thinking that, though I was speaking in the first person. I mean every woman who is fat in the sense that there’s no denying the fat.

        I mean in the needing two seats on a plane, using seatbelt extenders, can’t buy clothes in any brick and mortar store fat. That’s not a judgment, just a reality. Tara Erraught is most certainly not fat in that way, so to see people speak of her as though she may as well be was horrifying to me, hence the gut reaction, of, wait… in what universe is she even “fat?”

        But I don’t think poorly of myself because others will… I’m well beyond giving a damn what anyone else thinks. I’ve spent my whole life called “fat,” where it was meant as an insult an not a descriptive term (which is how I use it now). And, in fact, once upon a time I was actually NOT fat and still called fat (briefly). I spent a short time actually underweight by BMI standards… and I was still called fat because I had a belly roll and I was just plan bigger overall compared to the other girls (and most of the boys) my age. What I learned, with a lot of therapy, introspection, love and support from my husband and good friends and just general time is that people will always find reasons to be hateful. It’s a sad fact of life, and we can try to change this (and for myself, I do, where possible), but we’ll probably never completely eradicate it. So, for me, judging myself by what anyone else thinks is a waste of MY life. I refuse to give anyone else that much power anymore. Now, I’m human, so naturally I have moments where I still have to fight some of the negative thoughts that were once as much a part of my day as breathing, but those are now few and far between. This comparison that made you sad wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t that I care, just simply what I think is a valid observation… and just my perspective, obviously.

        What I was intending to say is that, while yes, I absolutely, 100% agree that body shaming in any way shape or form (fat OR thin shaming) is not even remotely okay, ever,I also don’t necessarily think that just because someone reacted to Tara Erraught with “but she’s not even fat” means they think it’s ever okay to go “oh, god… she’s so fat it’s distracting.”

        I was attempting to use myself (and some women like me that I know, who saw Ms. Erraught and had that same gut reaction) as an example of a person who might have responded with “but she’s not even fat” without meaning to imply that there’s EVER a point at which it would be okay to say the things those critics did say.

        I hope that clarifies it.

    4. (I’m having trouble commenting, so if you see this a gajillion times, please excuse.)


      Lol! I knew the response was to me, and I am no longer vested in people remembering my name. I used to be incensed! Glad I don’t have to expend that energy anymore. Besides, I like the name Elizabeth!

      Thanks for your great reply. I see where I got off track in reading your original response. I’m glad to be in the world with folks like you!

      Yr buddie

  6. I make it a point to occasionally to describe myself as “fat” to new acquaintances, to demonstrate for them that the word “fat” can be used as a neutral descriptor. 100% of the time, they think I’m fishing for “compliments.” 100% of the time they respond with an awkward, lying, “But you’re not fat!” And I respond, “No, I am fat. But that’s okay. I like my body.” It’s worth it just to see that look dawn on their faces, that moment when they realize that liking yourself is allowed.

    1. Yeah, I do the same. I say something along the lines of, “it’s okay… I’m saying it the same way I’d say ‘I have curly hair’ or ‘I have brown eyes.'” Now, no one has tried to argue that I’m fat for a while (because, ya know, death fat). But it’s kind of… sadly amusing to see the reactions of some people when I take the word fat and remove all the emotional baggage and societal BS associated with it and just own it as a descriptive term, and nothing else.

      1. I run into this often in my health and nutrition classes. When I teach about water consumption and keeping hydrated, there’s a different expectation from the old 8 -8oz glasses a day if you weight above 200 pounds. Its basically have the number of your weight in pound to ounces of water. You body deserves hydration! So I use myself as an example and explain that I would need 160 oz of water a day. I use the FAT word to describe myself when discussing body composition and explain that a body composition (% fat) is a better tool than the BMI. I have pictures of myself when I weighted 285, but wore a size 14/16 due to muscle density. Kids always reply “you are not fat!”… and I take that moment to explain that I’m not insulting myself, I’m describing myself.. and it is just like being brunette, freckled, wrinkly, etc. I can tell they don’t like to accept me using that term and would not want to use it.

        1. A technical question here…..

          If I understand you correctly, you are saying that a person should take their weight in pounds, divide that number in half, and drink that many ounces of water to stay properly hydrated?

          Would that hold true for me:

          520/2 = 260 ounces = basically, 2 gallons a day?

          1. Drinking large amounts of plain water can throw your electrolytes out of balance; drinking too much water quickly can even lead to a heart attack. You can take in some of your fluids in the form of broth, soup, tea, etc; fruits and veggies have a lot of water (as well as potassium & sodium), so if they make up a significant part of your diet they will keep you hydrated better than plain water.
            If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough fluids, increase slowly–16oz per day, for example; don’t just go from 2 quarts to 2 gallons!

            I’ve been taking this for a couple of weeks & have been feeling great & sleeping very well:

            I weigh about 290 and drink at least a gallon of water, sugar-free iced tea, lemonade etc a day, but I only go to the bathroom every 4 or 5 hours. But I will urinate more frequently (every 45-60 minutes) if I ingest too much sugar.

          2. I spend all my time in the bathroom if I drink as much water as is recommended for a person of my size. I drink when I’m thirsty and sip pretty much all day long. I live in a dry climate. But there’s no way I’m going to force myself to drink damn near a gallon of water a day!

  7. Although I didn’t say the opera singer was “not that fat,” I did say she was not as fat as I expected her to be. There are contexts for things, and for this one the context was societal norms. Considering a) the arena she is in, b) the irrelevancy of her size to her job, and c) that her reviewers pointed out her size in reviews about her singing, that “she’s not that fat” is a valid point.

    That “she’s not that fat” doesn’t change that she was judged for her body size, shamed for it, or treated differently than a person of another size — all of which is wrong, without equivocation. However the distinction in size is still significant in a cultural context where what is becoming “normal” is more and more “abnormal.” That is important when you are talking about social justice, because while we are calling for equal treatment, our society is simultaneously swinging the bar in the other direction.

    As someone who “is that fat,” how can I expect fairness when a person “not that fat” is being discriminated against? The reality is that society does judge by degrees of fatness. That is wrong, and it is true that equality means everybody — literally. But it is not an irrelevant point of discussion.

    1. I agree that I am being discriminated against because of the size of my body. And because of that, I do not automatically expect fairness anywhere. However, I refuse to judge myself, or even compare myself because of the degree to which I inhabit fatness. And when I hear people do so, I will comment, hopefully kindly, since that’s what works, but in argument, I will stand that ground.

      I don’t see Ragen calling fat and being judged as fat as irrelevant. Just that doing so isn’t accurate, and there is no point for me or anyone else to hold on to truth of it by judging ourselves or failing to speak out when it’s in the air.

      That’s my take anyway.

    2. Hi Rebecca,

      First of all thanks for taking the time to comment. It sounds from your comment like you think that this blog was written in response to something you wrote or said, but I’m not sure what you mean? In fact it is a re-work of this blog from 2012 I decided to discuss the topic again because of the number of comments I saw on the pieces that I was reading for my blog about the opera singer, I decided to post that bog first for context.

      That said, I respect your opinion and your right to do your activism based on it. I disagree for my own work. As someone who is also “that fat” when I see someone comment on someone else’s fat bashing by saying “she’s not that fat” what I hear is “if she was, that would be ok – this is wrong because her body size is being misrepresented.” It tells me that the person making the defense might be fine with the fat bashing happening to me since I am “that fat.”

      In my own activism I’ve found that attempting to define who is fat and who is not ends up in my spending a lot of time discussing who is fat and who is not and I’ve decided that it hasn’t been a good use of my time so I personally don’t engage in it (though of course I see value in the work and have respect those who do it, it’s a matter of how I want to spend my time.)

      While in another context I might discuss the social construct of “degrees of fatness” and how that effects us, when it comes to fat bashing I would rather respond that fat bashing is not ok in any context, rather than use it as an entry point into a discussion about who can and cannot claim or should or should not be given a label of “fat,” or “that fat”. This is not just because I have personally found it to be a more pragmatic approach, but because I think that responding with a discussion about who is and who is not fat reinforces the idea that the “degree of fatness” is important in the decision of how to treat someone.

      Thanks again for your comment and adding another opinion to the conversation.


  8. I get that a lot. “You’re not fat” – Geez, I’m 5’5″ and weigh 200 pounds. I wear a size 20. I shop in the plus-size department. Now I have the perfect reply without going into details: “It’s a body size, not an insult.” Thanks!

  9. This is purely my opinion, but I think the best opera singers are the ones with some heft to them. I always understood that barrel chested people have more resonance and can produce a bigger sound. Now I have not been studying opera as long as some here, like Helena, so I don’t know if that’s an actual fact…but it seems to me that the reason people have a larger woman brought to mind when someone says “opera singer” is because maybe that’s the body type traditionally needed.

    For certain operas, anyway. My first opera teacher here is a 5’10” thin blonde woman coloratura, and guess what she has been told in more than one audition? That she needs to gain weight to have a bigger sound. WTF, opera world?

  10. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I hear this one from women when I call them on referring to themselves as “fat” in an insulting way. I ask them to consider how that might make a person of my size feel.
    Their response tends to be “but you’re not THAT fat.”
    Um…yeah, I am “that fat.” I weigh nearly 300 pounds. I wear a size 2x or 3x. I’m “that fat.”
    My job requires a lot of walking, so my legs are fairly muscular. I also tend to wear loose-fitting clothes because long ago I decided that I didn’t want people (guys especially) looking at my body and judging my “fuckability.”
    The back story on this is that when I was fourteen years old, tight jeans were the rage. However, after a year of having so called adult men as well as dipshit boys my own age catcall me, I decided I didn’t want that kind of attention, so I started dressing in loose clothes. I’ve done so ever since.
    People are actually shocked when I say that I like being the gray-haired, middle-aged lady. It gives me a bit of an invisibility shield.
    Back to the being “that fat” issue. Yes, I’m “that fat.” Yes, there was a point when the prospect of having even a molecule of fat on my body shamed me into developing an eating disorder still plagues me. At least now I realize that the shame is not on my part for being “that fat.” The shame is on the part of those who would shame me for the size that I am.

  11. Having lost a good bit of weight, I have given this issue a LOT of thought and it has caused me plenty of awful feelings, since I am now routinely put in the category of “acceptable fat”. I once had a woman say to me, while talking about the “really fat” people (I can’t remember exactly what she was arguing, it was something about fat people not deserving health care, my memory is foggy because I was all flustered both from being deeply offended and at work so I had to keep some kind of professional relationship with this person when what I really wanted to to was punch her in the throat) “I’m not talking just a little chunky” (while inclining her head knowingly in my direction), “I’m talking ROTUND!!!!!” (while indicating with her arms someone very big around). I have rarely been so offended as a human being. I never quite know how to handle the situation when it comes up. But maybe it’s not so much that I don’t know how to handle it (I’m a big girl, I have the words) so much as it is just so hard to find that courage to tell someone their words are hurtful and they should shut it. Or maybe I don’t feel like I have the credibility anymore because if I say something like that then all I’ll get is a bunch of “what do you care, you aren’t that fat”. I don’t know. Anyway, thanks for this post, and all the commentators, you all inspire me in so many ways.

    1. Hi Marianne,

      Thanks so much for your comment, I’m really sorry that you had to deal with this!  For what it’s worth, while of course you are never under any obligation to do any kind of activism and I support however you deal with this kind of BS, from my perspective people who are seen as “not fat” or “not that fat” by whatever definitions are in a really powerful position because they are not going to be accused of just trying to “justify their fat” (as if our bodies require justification but whatever).  Often people fat bash to these people with the assumption that they are in the “cool kids who aren’t that fat” club and so it can be really powerful when someone hears from a “not fat” or “not that fat” person that fat bashing isn’t cool in any guise.  Just a thought.



  12. My husband and I go to visit our families in Poland once every year. The first thing we often hear form many of our loved ones (!) is ‘Oh, you’ve gained some weight’. Even if our weight is exactly the same as last year.

    It’s so painful. No words like ‘Good to see you’, ‘We are so happy you could come’ or ‘Oh, at last! We missed you!’.

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