Why Do You Call Yourself Fat?

my name is
This name courtesy of hatemail from someone who clearly missed the mark since I’m thinking about changing my name to this and buying a castle.

Today I want to talk about a question that I get asked a lot in many forms.  From “Why would you call yourself fat?” to “how can fat be a good thing?”  to “Do you have to call yourself fat?”  The word “fat” can definitely stir a lot of emotions which is one of the reasons that I use it.

I consider fat to be a reclaiming word.  It’s been used by people whose goal was to bully, intimidate, and stigmatize me through its use.  My use of it is one of the ways that I tell the bullies they can’t have my lunch money anymore. This reflects my belief that I can shift power around the words that are used to oppress me by reclaiming them and using them as my own. I resent the fact that people have heaped a ton of negativity and shame onto word that accurately describes me and I refuse to participate in that. Of course that’s my belief, others may choose something else and, as always, your mileage may vary.

I also use fat as a tacit rejection of euphemisms. For me, calling me anything but fat makes it seem that my size is something that requires “dancing around” – like a fat body is Lord Voldemort – that which must not be named.  I would rather be called fat than fluffy (though to be honest I’d rather be called almost anything than fluffy.) There are plenty of people who love being called “fluffy” or prefer to use any term besides fat and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Similarly, I reject that idea that “I’m not fat, I have fat” there’s a more complete explanation here, but basically my problem with this is illustrated by considering some other examples: When is the last you heard someone say “I’m not brunette, I have brown hair”  or “I’m not tall, I have above-average height.” When I’m flying in for a speaking gig I typically tell the person who is responsible for picking up that I’ll be the short, fat, brunette in the blue dress or whatever.  People often respond by telling me not to call myself fat, nobody in my life has ever told me not to call myself brunette.  Therein lies my problem with this – it seems to me that the reason to draw a distinction between being fat and having fat is that we are considering fat to be a negative thing from which we want to disassociate, and/or we want to see it as so temporary that we don’t want to be identified as fat.

Finally, I use the word “fat” as a rejection of the medicalization/pathologizing of fat bodies – terms like “obese” and “overweight” suggest that body size should be the same as a diagnosis and I strongly disagree with that.  Over what weight?  I’m over some weights and under others.  People come in different sizes, this is the size I come in.  As I once heard The Fat Chick say, I’m fat – not overweight, in the same way that I’m also short- I’m not medically undertall.

The word fat is just a physical descriptor on which people have been allowed to heap negative beliefs. From my perspective, the problem isn’t the word fat, it’s the way that people have tacked on their negative notions onto the word fat, and the way that they’ve used it to oppress those of us who fit the description.  They way I see it, we’re fat whether we call ourselves fat or not.  What we do once we realize that is up to each of us.

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36 thoughts on “Why Do You Call Yourself Fat?

  1. This post made me think of a scripture quote I heard one time. I looked it up and it occurred to me that biblically, fat was considered a good thing. I don’t have time to do the research now, but I know there’s at least one more reference to fat being equated with health and wealth. But here’s the scripture that came to my mind:

    They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; – Psalm 92:14 (KJV)

    1. You’re so right – funny I’ve been googling these verses in my spare time just this week 😀
      My personal favorite is Proverbs 15:30 “The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: and a good report maketh the bones fat.”
      I love it because I’m usually quite positive and happy-eyed 🙂
      But of course there are many more – these show how fat is associated with health, success, glory, strength, good looks, etc 🙂

      And it shall be in that day that the burden of [the Assyrian] shall depart from your shoulders, and his yoke from your neck. The yoke shall be destroyed because of fatness [which prevents it from going around your neck].
      Isaiah 10:27 AMP

      Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:
      Genesis 27:28 KJV

      Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.
      Genesis 49:20 KJV

      But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
      Judges 9:9 KJV

      And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness.
      Nehemiah 9:25 KJV

      All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
      Psalm 22:29 KJV

      They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
      Psalm 36:8 KJV

      My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
      Psalm 63:5 KJV

      Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.
      Psalm 65:11 KJV

      They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;
      Psalm 92:14 KJV

      The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
      Proverbs 11:25 KJV

      The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
      Proverbs 13:4 KJV

      The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: and a good report maketh the bones fat.
      *Proverbs 15:30 KJV

      Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.
      Isaiah 30:23 KJV

      Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
      Isaiah 55:2 KJV

      And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
      Isaiah 58:11 KJV

      And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord.
      Jeremiah 31:14 KJV

      Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
      Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
      So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
      And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
      Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.
      Daniel 1:12-16 KJV

      Also, loss of weight is directly associated with sickness, sadness, grief/fasting, loss of glory/good looks/wealth, even punishment from God:

      My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.
      Psalm 109:24 KJV

      And in that day it shall come to pass, that the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall wax lean.
      Isaiah 17:4 KJV

      Therefore will the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send leanness among [the Assyrian’s] fat ones; and instead of his glory or under it He will kindle a burning like the burning of fire.
      Isaiah 10:16 AMP

      “In that day the glory of Jacob will fade;
      the fat of his body will waste away.
      Isaiah 17:4 NIV

      The splendor of his forests and fertile fields
      it will completely destroy,
      as when a sick person wastes away.
      Isaiah 10:18 NIV

      Hope this helps – it is by no means a complete list but only what I have found in my own “research” which I enjoy very much 🙂

        1. You’re welcome!! 😀 So glad you enjoyed them 🙂 I love bringing these verses up and telling people about them as often as possible 🙂 I just hope anyone who reads my post will share them with their friends as well 😀

          1. P.S. I’ve also been doing some great research on the lovely culture of the Italian Renaissance! I can share that as well if you’d like 🙂

  2. My favorite part of your post: “others may choose something else.”

    I’m doing a lot of linguistics research on the pejoration of *fat* and *obese* as adjectives, and I can assure everyone that neither are neutral. Personally, I think *obese* is a better target for reclamation, but that’s just it–that’s what I think and no one is obligated to agree or identify that way. I have a list of over 50 euphemisms and metaphors for large body size, and my recommendation is to use more of them! You can be husky or zaftig or chubby or corpulent (my personal favorite) or make up your own word! Example: I love Rachel Herrick’s Obeast work. Playing with language is fun, can provide a sense of empowerment, and ultimately starts to diminish the effects of words that stigmatize certain body shapes, sizes, and configurations.

    1. I once read a book about the passengers on United Flight 93 and the author described one as “a capacious woman”. I’ve been using that word ever since and enjoying the befuddled looks I get.

      1. I love “capacious”! 😀 It’s still awaiting moderation for some reason but last week I replied with this beautiful, joyful quote from A Christmas Carol which introduced me to the word:
        “Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:”

    2. Corpulent – I love that one! 😀 I keep a list as well which includes corpulent, capacious, and many others – those words are so beautiful and 18th century sophisticated-like ❤ I personally have used "fluffy" since that adorable movie Despicable Me – as in fluffy unicorns and "it's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!!" 😀

  3. As another short, fat brunette, the only one of these terms anyone has admonished me not to use (a la You Know Who) is ‘fat.’ Nobody has ever argued against brunette, and nobody has ever argued against short (though a few have been startled into noticing that one).

    I’m fat. It’s a simple fact, but one that terrifies many people. It scares them so badly they don’t want me to acknowledge that I’m fat even though my 5’2″ frame is carrying something in the neighborhood of 240 – 250 pounds.

    But to me it seems ridiculous to pretend I’m anything but fat.

    I love language. I love using it to be accurate. In this case, fat is what is accurate.

    After all, there are times in life when you just have to call a spade a fucking shovel.

    If someone else wants to say they’re fluffy or obese or overweight or Marie Antoinette, that’s up to them and I’ll support their right to do so. But me? I’m fat. F.A.T. fat.

    And you know what? When I finally started to just up and say so, it felt sooooo goooood.

    I’m never going back.

  4. “Medically undertall” I’m going to start using that now when people use ‘obese’ or ‘overweight’. At 4’11”, I’m drastically undertall!

  5. Fat and never going back here, too. I laughed so hard when you spoke of the short not being characterized as “undertall.’ (I am tall…would people brand me as “overshort”?)

  6. I like referring to myself as fat, too. It’s quick, descriptive, and to me, there is an element of cuteness to the word. I have a fat cat, too, whose official name is Carly-Q but whose beloved nickname is “Fatty Catty Boom-a-Latty.” She’s silky soft, black, lovely and graceful, and fat as a little chubby kitty can be.

        1. No worries. If you get around to putting up a link w/o putting up the picture here, though…

          Weirdly, shortly after reading this column and comments, I met an adorable, fluffy black cat at the pet shop. (They have cats from the Humane Society up for adoption, not “kitten mill” cats.) She was greeting everyone, giving them the big eye and head-butts from her kennel. Hopefully somebody gives her a great home. (I already have two cats, unfortunately. I was there making sure they had enough food and litter for next week.)

    1. You’re right, it is a cute word and I’m a fan of all things cute :3 Yay I love cats, especially fat cats, and that is the cutest name ever! 😀 I’m on a social pet game called Hi!Kitties and spend most of my time on it adopting all the fat cats and naming them after my favorite beautiful fat celebrities 🙂

  7. YES! I always figured that if you are uncomfortable with me calling myself fat, then you probably uncomfortable with me BEING fat. I’m not that horribly uncomfortable with either one.

  8. I have to share my story, and it is awful and might be triggery, but it is fairly funny to me as well.
    So I call myself fat. I have for many years for all of the reasons above, so my mom knows that she can’t use the word against me anymore because it doesn’t register as an insult with me so now…. she uses terms like “healthy at every size” and “size positive” to mean that someone is OMG DEATHFATZ GROSS EW! Like “There was a woman looking at the house next door and she certainly was…. size-positive… *sneer*” Because why wouldn’t she? Why wouldn’t she try to take something that brings me joy and try to smash it with her fat hatred bullshit.

  9. The day I reclaimed the word fat was the day I reclaimed a lot of power for myself. I always hated when people would say that I wasn’t fat, just big boned. Um, no, I actually have small or average bones. And I hate heavy set. It sound like some sort of heavy duty lock. I’m not fluffy. I’m solid. I am plump. I like plump. Lol
    Just like you Ragan, I’m short, brunette, and fat, and no one has ever told me not to call myself brunette or short.
    When I think how much power that little word, fat, used to have over me, it just seems silly now.

    1. One day I used the word ‘fat’ casually to describe myself, and one of my coworkers said, ” I don’t think of you as fat. I’d describe you as heavy.”

      Now, I hear “I don’t think of you as fat” a lot, which outrages me because I certainly AM fat. As far as I can tell, “I don’t think of you as fat” means “I don’t think you are stupid, gross, smelly or ungainly.” It’s kind of like being told people don’t think of me as a Jew because I ‘m not a cheapskate—it amounts, in my mind, to an insult, albeit an unintended one.

      Now, she can think of me however she likes, and she actually meant well, but I’d go with “fat” over “heavy” any day, personally.

      1. So much THIS.

        I once worked with an African American man who said the thing he hated most was when people came up to him all sensitive and said ‘I don’t see your color.’ I know most people who say ‘I don’t see’ or ‘no, no you’re not’ don’t intend it to sound that way, but what it does is disappear us. It says ‘this thing about you is uncomfortable/frowned upon, so I’m going to pretend you look/worship/sound just like socially acceptable me.’

        Like my one-time co-worker, I’d far rather people saw me whole and accepted the things that society finds uncomfortable than tell me a big part of who I am doesn’t exist because it makes them uncomfortable,

  10. Should non fat people call fat people fat? I dunno why I always get uncomfortable when a non fat person says it..

    1. Back before Western culture got all freaky-eyed about everybody being thinyoungtaut’n’cut, “fat” was just a word.

      I had a doctor visit today. I made sure to ask for the fat people’s cuff. The nurse did some stumbling verbal acrobatics about why it wasn’t really for that word she couldn’t say, but she stopped when she saw that I wasn’t upset. (The cuff was marked “large adult.”)

      1. Speaking of: One of my children is reading The Secret Garden. She just got to the passage where thin, listless, jaundiced little Mary realizes that she is feeling more vigorous and looks healthier. She describes herself as “getting fatter.” This book was published about a hundred years ago.

        1. I love that book! And A Christmas Carol (isn’t Fezziwig handsome? 😀 ), there is such sweet, clean and size-positive literature from that period – 19th century? And in that era thinness wasn’t really associated with beauty nor health 🙂

  11. I saw something on Tumblr about how to respond to people who basically react to calling yourself fat by saying, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!”

    “I said I was fat, I didn’t say I was ugly!”

    I’m gonna keep that one handy for those precious moments.

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